Nice to meet you: January 14 board interest meet and greet at Chaia

Many thanks to the slow foodies who joined us at Snail-award-winning Chaia Tacos our happy hour meet and greet! Over tasty, seasonal tacos and drinks, a dozen potential new board members chatted with current and former Slow Food DC board members about board priorities, areas for growth, and potential ways to get more involved with our local slow food chapter. Hoping to see many of you at upcoming events (and some of you at future board meetings)!

Batch 327

At 6pm on a chilly Friday evening earlier this month, eight adventurous local foodies wandered into New Columbia Distillers‘ Ivy City location to help bottle the latest batch of Green Hat gin. As I hung my coat on the rack, Ian and Travers handed me my first gin & tonic. I could tell it was going to be a good night. Travers welcomed the group, got us signed in, and as we sipped on our cocktails (the first step in the process) he explained how to affix the labels onto bottles (the second step of the bottling process)….

After quite a few cases of bottles were labeled, it was time to explain the various stations.

Though step three of the process was pretty fun — blowing out the bottles with an air blaster to remove any cardboard residue from the boxes — my favorite part was step four: filling bottles using the gin udder. I am clearly not the only one who loved this part:

Every few cases, members of the group rotated through the next few stations: capping, adding the top label, recording the batch and alcohol level, heat sealing, and boxing. 

It was hard work, but fun… and Ian made sure we didn’t go thirsty in the process, bringing around various batches of cocktails made with their in-house stock of gin, rye whiskey, and other tasty ingredients. You can’t label things correctly if you’re parched!

Our evening ended with a tasting and tour of the facility. We learned about the history of bootlegging in DC, the true story of The Man in the Green Hat after which the distillery is named, the challenges of local grain sourcing (and ultimate success finding local farm. And of course we learned about the gin making process: make beer -> turn it into vodka -> add botanicals to make it gin! Who knew? I do now. And had a chance to sample all of Green Hat’s offerings and purchase them at wholesale prices. Not a bad way to knock out some holiday shopping and support a local business, eh?

You have to be in the know to help at the small-group bottling parties, but you can stop by your local liquor store (or a number of farmers markets around town) to pick up a bottle. Or better yet, swing by the Green Hat bar in Ivy City:

  • Free Tours Saturday only at 1:30, 3:00 & 4:30pm
  • Cocktail Bar & Gin Garden Saturdays 1-8pm, Sunday 2-6pm
  • No Reservations Required

Raising the Profile of Sustainable Fish and Seafood

When asked, many in our region would acknowledge that fish and shellfish play significant roles in the mid-Atlantic food system. But this industry is often overshadowed by the also critical issues faced by agricultural producers. In order to raise the profile of sustainable fish and seafood, as well as those who work in the industry, Slow Food DC is one of just a few Slow Food chapters with a designated Slow Fish Liaison.  

Board member Lauren Parnell is an enthusiastic advocate for eating local fish and shellfish, educating consumers about how to make ethical seafood choices, and supporting coastal communities and livelihoods. As our Slow Fish liaison, she helps our chapter apply a seafood lens to all activities, gives educational talks for consumers, and fosters our relationships with small-scale fishers around the region.

In early October, Lauren traveled to Portland, Oregon to attend the Local Seafood Summit, a gathering that celebrates the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of small-scale and community-based seafood businesses committed to strengthening their local, regional, and national food systems. The summit was hosted by The Local Catch Network, a community-of-practice made up of fisherman, organizers, researchers, and consumers from across North America that are committed to providing local, healthful, low-impact, and economically sustainable seafood via community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct marketing arrangements.

At the summit, Lauren led a workshop on Disaster Resilience, drawing on her professional experience in emergency management. Disaster resilience is a critical topic for fishing communities who are on the frontlines of climate change. Extreme weather events, rising ocean temperatures, and ocean acidification are adversely impacting fish and shellfish populations and pose increasing challenges for those who make their living on the water.  Small seafood businesses, like the ones Slow Food loves to support, are particularly vulnerable. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40% of small businesses do not re-open after a disaster, 25% more fail within a year. Lauren’s workshop discussed recent disaster data and trends across coastal regions of the U.S. and identified best practices to increase the chances small fishers and seafood sellers are able to weather disaster-related business disruptions.

After the summit, Lauren and 15 other attendees joined well-known sustainable seafood advocate and owner of Forever Wild Salmon Kevin Scribner for a two-day tour of the Washington and Oregon coasts. They covered a lot of ground, visiting the new waterfront development area in Vancouver, WA, the historic working waterfronts in Garibaldi, OR, and an oyster hatchery in Netart’s Bay, OR.

Lauren recently joined the Planning Committee for the next Slow Fish gathering that will take place in Durham, New Hampshire March 19-22, 2020. This event is open to fishers, eaters, chefs, community organizers, and anyone else interested in joining a values- based community and learning more about sustainable seafood. We hope some of you will join us there!

In the meantime, you can get more involved in the Slow Fish virtual community by following the Slow Fish North America page on Facebook.

What Does a Healthy Diet Look Like? World Food Day Poster Contest

Thanks to all who joined us Saturday, October 26 for to celebrate World Food Day. In particular, many thanks to Brian at Busboys and Poets‘ Anacostia location for arranging the beautiful space and delicious snack platters. And an extra special thanks to our friendly and educational tabling partners from DC Greens, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and Dine Diaspora. We all had some great conversations over Dine Diaspora’s origins of spices game, giveaway goodies like DC Greens’ DC food justice pins and grow-your-own-basil kits from FAO, and poster materials.

In case you missed our in-person poster making party and gallery walk, it’s not too late to enter the global FAO World Food Day poster competition. The competition is open to poster artists aged 5 to 19. Official rules and requirements, and the link to upload your entry, can be found here. The deadline for submissions is November 8, 2019.

Oct 26: World Food Day poster contest and celebration!

OCT 26: WORLD FOOD DAY student poster contest and celebration!

Slow Food DC welcomes student artwork for the FAO Poster Contest — open to kids aged 5-19. The idea is for students to create a poster that illustrates their idea of what needs to be done to make healthy diets available for everyone and how each of us can improve our diets. SFDC is hosting a “gallery walk” of local poster submissions on the afternoon of Saturday, October 26 that will feature snacks, activities, and info tables led by local and international food organizations. The gathering is FREE and will take place at Busboys and Poets’ Anacostia location. We will take photos of student posters and vote on our local “people’s choice” winner!

Need poster ideas? Check out the Eating Healthy Matters activity book, available online.

Many thanks to our partners and supporters: Slow Food USA, DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Busboys and Poets, DC Urban Garden Network, and FreshFarm.

What: World Food Day poster gallery walk and celebration
When: 12:00noon til 2:00pm on Saturday, October 26
Where: Busboys and Poets @ 2004 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, Washington, DC 20020 (about a 10-minute walk from the Anacostia metro station)
Cost: free!
Register: here.
Questions? Contact ibti@slowfooddc.org.

Sustainable Beer!

It was a dark and stormy night… but that did not deter a dozen or so lovers of local beer from making it out to Vienna’s own Caboose Brewing Company on August 20th. As we sipped on a series of tasty beers, beginning with their tart and summery Blackberry Gose, the Snail of Approval winning team at Caboose Brewing Company led us on a tour of their brewing space. Matt Greer and Matt Ferda — owner and head brewer, respectively — walked us through their brewing process and philosophy, pointing out along the way how sustainability factors into various levels of brewery operations, from sourcing ingredients to brewing to re-purposing waste and by-products.

Matt (the owner) explained how from the day they opened 4 years ago, Caboose had a goal of being as green and sustainable as possible, and also a center for community engagement. From massive boil pots with steam jackets that conserve energy to recycling heated and cooled water for different purposes to stacking the wort vats to maximize space in the small but high-ceilinged room, the brewing process itself is more efficient that many other places. They even reuse locally-sourced yeast up to 10 times in their beer making, and casually pointed out that they send the majority of the 4,000 pounds of spent grain they generate each day to a farmer in Gainesville to feed his animals. (Lucky pigs!)

After our tour, we had a chance to meet the head chef and a few other members of the Caboose team while a flight of beer tasters made their way to our two long tables: Bienvenidos lager, their refreshing citra IPA, and a brown ale. I think there was another beer or two that came out, but by then I was distracted by the largely locally-sourced food extravaganza. A huge salad with house-pickled summer veggies, a cheese board, french fries, shrimp and grits, a noodle dish, mac & cheese…. We all left well fed and happy after an evening of good food, drink, and conversation.

In case you missed this event, fear not: Caboose hosts many events each month.

The Magical World of Botanicals with One Eight Distilling

Snail of Approval winner One Eight Distilling is DC’s second distillery and although they have a full line-up of popular products, they’ve developed somewhat of a cult following for their Ivy City gin. To find out why, we teamed with One Eight’s Marketing and Event Manager Cara Webster for a workshop on the magical ingredients that make this gin is so popular.

Gin is essentially vodka with the additional of botanicals, which makes the quality of both the base spirit and the flavoring components extremely important. In order for gin to be classified as gin, juniper berries must be the main flavoring agent but after that, just about anything is fair game to create a flavor profile that is unique to the distiller. For One Eight, this includes botanicals such as allspice, fennel, lemongrass, orange peel, coriander, and Grains of Paradise, with each lending a particular fruity, spicy, or sweet note to the final product.

To understand how impactful each botanical can be, participants smelled and tasted a distillate of each of these botanicals – essentially a super contracted essence of the botanical’s flavor. Then everyone could choose which flavor elements they liked best to create their own personal brand of gin – as long as it included some juniper!

With our signature blends in hand, we were invited to make our own gin and tonics with an assortment of fruits and herbs to accent our creations. Certainly a fun way to play with flavor profiles and to discover new ways to enjoy one of DC’s favorite products. Keep an eye out for future special releases from One Eight Distilling, and for workshops on their other products!

This event was part of Slow Food DC’s Summer of Sustainable Beverages series.

Fight Food Waste with Your Fork: RescueDish DC

It’s estimated that 40 percent of food in the United States ends up in the dumpster every year. Think about that number for a moment – 40 percent. Almost half of our food supply. And this is often food that could have been used, but was discarded due to cosmetic blemishes or perhaps, poor refrigerator management. (Yup, guilty over here.)

But there’s a movement underway in DC to draw attention to this problem, and to demonstrate that “ugly” food can still be delicious – RescueDish.

RescueDish is a part of the DC Food Recovery Working Group, a consortium of people in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who care deeply about reducing food waste. To raise the profile of their efforts, RescueDish week spotlights chefs and brands using underutilized (or what would have been wasted) ingredients to create drool-worthy dishes, while also limiting food waste in restaurant operations. Slow Food DC was thrilled to join Rescue Dish, The Accokeek Foundation, Snail winner Common Good City Farm, and Rooftop Roots at ANXO July 10 for a Sustainability Supper to kick off the week.

ANXO’s Executive Chef Alex Vallcorba put together a special menu utilizing “ugly” produce that wasn’t acceptable for grocery stores, foraged ingredients, as well as portions of other ingredients that are often put to waste by most restaurants. This included a beautiful smoked carrot steak dish that utilized the entire carrot – even the tops! The menu also featured ANXO ciders made from foraged apples, and cocktails crafted with house-made syrups concocted from foraged ingredients.

Wanting to emphasize the importance of preserving our diverse food heritage, Vice Chair Reana Kovalcik explained that the dish featuring Carolina Gold Rice is included in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of foods that are culturally and historically significant to our region.

Common Good City Farm donated slightly misshapen tomatoes that were made into a delicious gazpacho. Amazingly, no one could tell that the tomatoes would not have been considered attractive enough to sell at market.

Almost a dozen DC-area restaurants participated in this year’s RescueDish week, including Snail of Approval winners Chaia Tacos, Blue Duck Tavern, Urbana Dining & Drinks, and Equinox. By celebrating dishes that demonstrate root-to-leaf and nose-to-tail creativity, RescueDish aims to inspire all eaters and chefs to see delicious opportunity, where they used to see waste.

So the next time you see some “ugly” produce, maybe give it another look and a chance to beautify your plate and nourish your soul.

 

Sustainable Fish 101

This past Friday, over a delicious snifter of local brown ale, I joined a dozen other DC-area foodies for a crash course on how to become a more informed, ethical seafood consumer. First, Hellbender‘s operations manager, Bill Mitchell, welcomed the group to the Snail of Approval winning Fort Totten area brewery and spoke about the brewery’s sustainability efforts and partnerships (including hosting educational talks like the one that was about to begin). Then, SFDC board member and local seafood expert, Lauren Parnell launched into a fascinating introduction to the world of sustainable fish….

To be honest, things started out pretty bleak. If you think choosing ethically raised chicken eggs is confusing — should you seek out organic? cage-free? free-range? pastured?? — it pales in comparison to how complicated it is to truly know that you are choosing fish and shellfish that have been responsibly harvested. Even a basic question like “should I choose wild or farmed seafood” has various qualifying criteria that encompass social, environmental, and economic factors. I had read that wild Atlantic salmon was good… but it turns out there is no such thing as wild Atlantic salmon available in the U.S. I thought farmed shrimp were bad… but it depends on where and how they are farmed. Should I just stop eating seafood altogether?? I began to contemplate ordering another beer….

 

As we nibbled on smoked salmon and a tasty salmon spread supplied by Snail of Approval-winning Cold Country Salmon, Lauren talked us through the basics. Though wild-caught species seem like a clear choice, some are overfished or caught using methods that harm other species and destroy the delicate aquatic environment. Farmed seafood is not necessarily bad, and especially species farmed in American waters are a good choice, as the U.S. has some of the best fishing regulations in the world. But the best thing you can do to make sure you are eating the most sustainable seafood choice possible is to educate yourself: ask questions!

Before we headed over to sample delicious raw oysters from local purveyor Sapidus Farms, Lauren gave us some specific tips for choosing well-raised fish:

  1. Know your fish varieties and your fisherman — we do this with meat, don’t we?
  2. Ask questions of local retailers and restaurants — if they don’t have a good answer, don’t buy it. And the more often consumers ask for sustainably raised seafood, the more suppliers will seek it out!
  3. Eat locally as much as possible — support your local fishing economy. In this global economy, and considering comparatively strong regulations in our country, when in doubt, choose American.
  4. Eat a variety of species — not just salmon, tuna, and cod. There are so many tasty fish and shellfish out there!
  5. Eat lower on the food chain — you can never go wrong eating some of the abundance of our Chesapeake Bay oysters, clams, and mussels.
  6. Value quality over quantity — a 4 oz. portion is plenty of protein for a serving of fish. You can feed five people high-quality, wild-caught Pacific salmon for $20/pound, for instance. Consider that “cheap” fish also likely involves a company that disregards the health of the ocean and probably doesn’t pay/treat its workers well.
  7. Frozen seafood is okay — many fishing boats have high-tech flash freezers that will keep fish as fresh as (or fresher than) fish that’s been shipped fresh to the retailer.
  8. Use a guide — I have for a long time liked the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s guide, though note that it only lists the most commonly consumed species.
  9. Look for eco-labels — an imperfect barometer, kind of like buying vegetables that are “certified organic,” but it’s something you can go by when the fisherman or processor isn’t around to ask questions to directly. Lauren recommended the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label as consistently reliable.

She did say there was a low probability that oysters would be overeaten, right? Oh, goodie, those VA oysters from Sapidus looked delicious….

What Does “Sustainable” Wine Mean?

Many of us want to be more thoughtful food and beverage consumers, but what does that mean in terms of wine? On Sunday, June 23, Slow Food DC supporters gathered at DC’s only natural wine bar Dio – owned by Stacey Khoury-Diaz – for an in-depth look at what “sustainable” practices mean in the wine industry from winemaker and owner Jason Murray of Arterra Wines in Delaplane, VA.

We want to feel good about purchasing products that are labeled “sustainable” or “organic” but in reality, the resources and practices that go into these products don’t always match our perception of what those terms mean.

Like any business, winemakers seek efficiency in their production processes to reduce costs and as a result, they may employ practices that in the consumer’s mind, would not be considered “sustainable,” but are still allowed under current regulations.

This could mean using non-reusable plastic sheeting in the vineyard for more effective watering. It could mean spraying the grapes with a copper solution to control fungi that might   destroy the crops. It could also mean introducing mechanization in the vineyards to more efficiently manage many acres of grapes, at the expense of local jobs.  Jason challenged us to consider whether any of these practices would be considered “sustainable” in our minds, and to consider the long-term impact of overall vineyard practices on the environment and our health.

Jason also questioned the value of certain certifications, pointing out that many top producers in the Europe and the United States are practicing organic but don’t advertise this fact, because some consumers associate the label with lower quality wines. Additionally, attaining these certifications can be too time consuming and expensive for smaller producers. It’s even more confusing for consumers when large, commercial producers use terms like “organic” or “sustainable” to broaden their appeal, rather than because they’ve invested in long-term sustainability.

Consumers are generally less critical of what goes into wine production because the assumption is, wine is just made of grapes. In the United States, winemakers are not required to list the ingredients or nutritional values on their labels because wine is classified as an agricultural product and not as a food or beverage, regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But in many instances, winemakers can legally use certain additives to correct challenges in the vineyard or the winemaking process.

Jason emphasized that in order to make truly sustainable products, a winemaker must grow and use grapes that are suited for the local climate and soil of the region. This helps the winemaker avoid having to take corrective measures during the winemaking process, such as augmenting grapes that haven’t fully ripened.

For Arterra Wines, it’s vital to have the conversation about what is working for agriculture in our climate and what is not. Even if producers are not able to produce a quality, consistent wine with full organic methods right from the start, that doesn’t mean it’s not helpful to try. From Jason’s perspective, the point is to have confidence and transparency in production methods, and to produce clean wines; as noted above, it’s not always a guarantee that a wine is clean just because it has organic label.

But there is also a marketing challenge for winemakers – if Cabernet Sauvignon is popular, will customers recognize and purchase a wine made less well-known grapes, such as Viognier,which grows well in Virginia? Producers must also consider the stiff competition that comes from large producers benefiting from economies of scale. Because they produce more, they can sell their wine at a much lower price, sometimes falsely co-opting terms like “sustainable” or “organic.”

Conscientious consumers should remember that the many resources needed to produce a bottle of wine are magnified for a small producer, which ultimately, affects the price we pay at the store. Labor costs for hand-managing vineyards instead using machines, for example, will exponentially raise costs but also, provide livelihoods and support a more diverse local economy. In the United States, farming has one of the highest poverty rates of any profession and helping farmers succeed economically may not always match what consumers can afford.

To illustrate his points, Jason guided us through a tasting of five sustainably produced wines from Maryland (Old Westminster Winery), New York (Liten Buffel), California (Amplify Wines), and Virginia (Arterra Wines).

For his own wines, Jason explained that his goal is to make clean and distinctive Virginia wines that represent the unique character of the region. This means planting grape varieties that grow well in this region’s climate, such as Petit Verdot and Viognier, as well as using native yeasts.

Until we can have more confidence in labeling terms, the best way to know what really goes into your wine is to get to know your local producers, and to find out what practices are used in the vineyard and in the winemaking process. Websites are handy but also, a good old-fashioned phone call can do the trick! And if you have the time, a day-trip to one of Virginia’s or Maryland’s wineries is a great way to get some additional knowledge.

We want to extend a huge thank you to Jason and Stacey for hosting this discussion and tasting, which we hope is just the start of this conversation! Join us for our next “Summer of Sustainable Beverages” event on July 28 with Snail of Approval winner One Eight Distilling.