Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Agribusiness

California farmers get the squeeze in fight to battle salmonella

Amid a rolling landscape of browning chaparral and battered trailers, Alan and Ryan Armstrong's metal hen houses line up like military barracks. Keeping their 450,000 birds safe — and keeping Salmonella enteritidis out of their hen houses — is a daily battle.

Since they were old enough to drive the family skip loader and shovel chicken droppings, the Armstrong brothers followed a state-sanctioned quality-assurance program designed to curtail salmonella in eggs. So have dozens more California egg farmers, who helped develop the guidelines alongside federal and state officials following a salmonella outbreak 15 years ago that sickened thousands of people.

The program, which includes vaccinating hens and testing barns regularly for bacteria, has essentially wiped out salmonella on California farms, industry officials say. Yet only nine other states have enacted similar government-sponsored efforts. Read more in P.J. Huffstutter's article in Wednesday's Business section:

Photo: Francisco Jimenez Cruz gathers eggs laid by Leghorn hens at Armstrong Egg Farms in Valley Center, Calif., in northern San Diego County.  Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Egg farms are found to be filthy

Maybe this egg recall isn't so surprising after all. Maybe the real surprise is why it took so long. Check out the latest developments, reported in today's Business section by P.J. Huffstetter and Andrew Zajac:

Federal officials investigating conditions at the two Iowa mega-farms whose products have been at the center of the biggest egg recall in U.S. history found filthy conditions, including chickens and rodents crawling up massive manure piles and flies and maggots "too numerous to count."

Water used to wash eggs at one of the producers tested positive for a strain of salmonella that appears to match the variety identified in eggs that have sickened at least 1,500 people, according to preliminary Food and Drug Administration reports of inspections at facilities operated by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms of Iowa Inc. Read more here:

--Rene Lynch

Food safety experts said conditions found by federal investigators at two Iowa egg producers -- Wright County Egg, above, and Hillandale Farms -- are some of the worst they’ve seen in decades. (Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press / August 24, 2010)


Up for debate: To drink milk -- or not

Milk Few things in life look as pure and simple as a glass of milk. The ingredient list on the carton is refreshingly short too. All it says is "milk," perhaps along with some added vitamin A and vitamin D. No preservatives, no artificial colors, no high-fructose anything. Just milk.

But like many things that appear simple from the outside, there's a lot going on beneath milk's surface.

That glass is swirling with natural cow hormones, which isn't surprising considering the source. Milk contains sugars found nowhere else in nature, and it offers a particular blend of nutrients -- including protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium -- that you can't get anywhere else.

Yet, almost 8,000 years after nomadic herders realized they could tug at the udders of slow-moving livestock, we still aren't sure how much of the stuff we should be drinking.

The USDA recommends three cups of dairy a day for all adults, but the science behind milk hasn't been settled.

"This is one of the most complicated and interesting areas of nutrition," says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, "and we don't have all of the answers."

Read more in Monday's Health section cover story.

Photo: Milk's benefits are touted -- and questioned. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

Helping veterans through farming

Wednesday marks the very first Southern California Food and Farming Veteran Career Fair in Santa Monica. It's hosted by the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, a nonprofit that was founded by American farmers to help veterans -- particularly young people who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- find work in agriculture.

The group says that more than 250,000 veterans of those two wars are out of work and that the unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 reportedly hovers near 30%. At the same time, these farmers say that the nation has a critical need for new farmers who are versed in ecological matters and committed to producing a safe, healthful food supply.

The fair's goal is to introduce veterans to companies and organizations offering jobs in regional farming, produce distribution, urban farming, school garden projects, landscaping and culinary arts. On-site job counseling will also be provided as will food prepared and served by local chefs.

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. (310) 458-8551. Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free for veterans and employers. www.farmvetco.org.

-- Jessica Gelt 

Photo: Ben Stansall. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

Justice Department and USDA hold first meeting about competition in food sector

Let the food fight begin: More than 700 farmers, agribusiness executives and government officials gathered at the Des Moines Area Community College on Friday morning to discuss the issues that have emerged in the food sector because of consolidation of the industry.

The Justice Department has received 15,000 comments and questions from the public over this issue. And, based on the mood here in Ankeny, Iowa, it’s clear there’s going to be more debate than polite discussion. P.J. Huffstutter is there to keep track of the developments -- and what it will mean for your wallet.


Rising food prices may start with seeds: Farmers say consolidation in the industry means they're forced to buy more costly seeds. But Monsanto, the world's largest seed firm, insists that competition 'is alive and flourishing.'

Photo: About 90% of U.S. soybean acres are grown with seeds that use Monsanto technology. Credit: Dan Gill / Associated Press

A winning cake, corraling coupons, cow power and more

Griffith -- One wild cake: The Griffith Observatory has been memorialized in film, with "Rebel Without a Cause." Now, it's memorialized in cake. Pictured is the sugary confection that won TLC's "Ultimate Cake Off" Monday night. The challenge: Honor the L.A. landmark as it prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary. That will be done with a May 15 fete where art meets astronomy called "Cosmic Conjunction 2010: Diamond Nights * Northern Lights." That's Dr. E.C. Krupp, director of the observatory and a guest judge on the show, with the winning cake, by Colette Peters. Peters is owner of Colette's Cakes in New York City. Her cake re-creates the Griffith Park experience, including the gravity-challenging drive up and the starry skies.

-- Twip of the day: Follow @foodlibrarian and check out her blog: the Food Librarian. Today, she's serving up Meyer lemon olive oil cake, courtesy of a Gourmet recipe. Sniff, sniff. R.I.P., Gourmet.

-- Got supermarket coupons? Here's an adorable way to corral them. 

-- We'll toast to that: Scientists discover an alcohol that fends off hangovers and helps you sober up more quickly.

-- Something's in the air. 1) A Swedish entrepreneur has developed a single-use toilet that can then be used to fertilize crops. (But the best reason to click is to find out the name of said product.) 2) Some farmers are dragging their heels when it comes to turning dung into gold. And 3) Another entrepreneur closer to home is making a mint off manure tea bags. (Do these three stories belong on a food blog? It's debatable.)

-- Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: TLC

Goin, Silverton and Voltaggio collaborate on menu for Hungry in America fundraiser

Hungry in america On Sunday, Tom Colicchio and Bryan Lourd are hosting a fundraiser to benefit the Hungry in America Project, a collaboration between the documentary "Hungry in America" and the Feed Foundation. Kristi Jacobsen and Colicchio's wife, Lori Silverbush, are the filmmakers behind the picture, which is scheduled to premiere in early 2011.

None of the well-heeled attendees will be going hungry at the event, however; the spread will include small plates from from Craft's menu, as well as a few special celeb chef guests' creations.

"Top Chef" champion Michael Voltaggio will be preparing an updated take on a deli classic -- pastrami pigeon, sauerkraut gelee, Gruyère cheese and rye au jus -- which is also served on his menu at the Dining Room at the Langham in Pasadena. Nancy Silverton will be doing Pizzeria Mozza's fried squash blossoms with ricotta, and Suzanne Goin will serve steak tartare. 

Celeb attendants are scheduled to include Ben Affleck, Alison Sweeney, Katharine McPhee, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Samantha Harris.

Tickets are pricey -- $250 general admission and $1,000 VIP (they're tax deductible). They are available online. The event will be held from  6 to 8 p.m. at Craft, 10100 Constellation Blvd., in Century City.

-- Krista Simmons

Fennel showing up at farmers markets


Fennel, the most fragrant of vegetables, is now at its peak of abundance and quality. Of the half a dozen stands at the Hollywood farmers market that sell it, Finley Organic Farms, which grows the Zefa Fino variety in Santa Ynez, has the sweetest and most tender and aromatic bulbs, ideal for eating raw in salads. Finley also sells at the Culver City, Beverly Hills and Saturday Santa Monica markets. But it's hard to go wrong: The Xiong farm of Clovis has pristine specimens, and Underwood Family Farms of Somis has large, plump bulbs.

Read more in David Karp's weekly Market Watch report, bringing you the latest farmers market news and the inside track on the season's freshest produce. 

Photo credit: David Karp / For The Times

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert talk food porn with Martha

On Tuesday, bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain and Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert did a spot on the Martha Stewart Show to promote their new Sirius Radio program, 'Turn and Burn', which launches Thursday.

In addition to preparing coq au vin, Bourdain and Ripert shared their most sensual food memories--in as explicit verbiage as they could without making Martha blush, of course.

'Turn and Burn' will attempt to bring the ever-popular food porn genre onto the radio, and will also cover topics such as sustainability, at-home cooking and food ethics. The duo will host celebrity guests on the show, the first of which will be none other than famed restaurateur, chef and TV personality Mario Batali.

Bourdain and Ripert will air on Martha Stewart Radio from 10:00 –11:00 pm PT every Thursday on Sirius channel 112 and XM channel 157 through March 18.

The partnership between Stewart and Bourdain may come as a surprise to Bourdain's followers: He has been abundantly vocal about his dislike for what he considers to be highfalutin folks like Alice Waters, whose demeanor isn't too far from Stewart's. But perhaps he admires "M. Diddy's" tougher side for spending some time in the slammer. Anyone with a prison nickname deserves some props, right?

--Krista Simmons

Cast revealed for 'Top Chef Masters,' Season 2

Top chef masters Entertainment Weekly divulged which chefs will grace the upcoming cast of "Top Chef Masters," Season 2. We're seeing a few repeats here, as local chefs Ludo Lefebvre and Mark Peel will return. Govind Armstrong, who judged an elimination challenge last season, will come back to compete in Season 2 as well. Kelly Choi will return as a host, and Susan Feniger will make her first appearance as a contestant.

Here's a full list of contestants:

Jody Adams -- Rialto Restaurant, Cambridge, Mass.
Govind Armstrong -- 8 oz. Burger Bar, Los Angeles
Graham Elliot Bowles -- Graham Elliot Restaurant, Chicago
Jimmy Bradley -- The Red Cat, New York, N.Y.
David Burke -- David Burke Townhouse, New York, N.Y.
Wylie Dufresne -- wd~50, New York, N.Y.
Susan Feniger - Street, Los Angeles
Debbie Gold -- The American Restaurant, Kansas City, Mo.
Carmen Gonzalez -- Chef Consultant, New York, N.Y.
Maria Hines - Tilth, Seattle
Susur Lee -- Madeline's, Toronto
Ludo Lefebvre -- Ludo Bites, Los Angeles
Tony Mantuano -- Spiaggia, Chicago
Rick Moonen -- Rick Moonen's RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
Mark Peel -- Campanile, Los Angeles
Monica Pope -- t'afla, Houston
Thierry Rautureau -- Rover's, Seattle
Marcus Samuelsson -- The Red Rooster, New York, N.Y.
Ana Sortun -- Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.
Rick Tramonto -- TRU, Chicago
Jerry Traunfeld -- Poppy, Seattle
Jonathan Waxman -- Barbuto, New York, N.Y.

-- Krista Simmons

Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Illustration credit: Bravo TV


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.