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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Bonapartes’ Gifts to Your Kitchen

The recent feature film “Napoleon” has people taking a fresh look at The Little Corporal and his namesake nephew.

Napoleon Bonaparte left the world a boatload of legacies. He radically revolutionized military organization and thinking in the early 19th century. His Napoleonic Civil Code profoundly affected government institutions in France and much of Europe for decades after his death. He popularized (but did not create) the famous hand-in-waistcoat portrait pose.

And his family eventually gave the world several items that may be in your kitchen right now.

Napoleon is remembered for supposedly saying, “An army marches on its stomach.” Talk to anyone who has worn the uniform, and they’ll tell you what was true in Napoleon’s time still holds true today. A commander who keeps his troops properly fed gets the most out of them.

In the Napoleonic Era, army regulations called for soldiers to receive a daily ration that included 24 ounces of bread; a half-pound of meat; either an ounce of rice or two ounces of dried beans, peas or lentils (depending on availability); a quart of wine; a gill of brandy (about a quarter pint); and a half gill of vinegar. The French forerunners of GI grunts had gourmand tastebuds.

(However, those rations were received only when supplies were to be had and could be delivered to an army on the move. More often than not, French soldiers subsisted on salted meat and stale bread.)

Satisfying his soldiers’ tastebuds would go a long way in keeping order in the ranks as French forces kept busy overrunning much of Europe.

Napoleon wasn’t the kind of guy who let problems stand in his way. When he wanted something, he either obliterated obstacles or found a way around them.

And so it was with supplying his men with special treats. He offered a prize of 12,000 francs to whoever could devise a better way to store and preserve food to feed his soldiers.

Nicolas Appert, known today as the Father of Food Science, rose to the challenge. Until the late 1700s, people had difficulty keeping food for an extended period. Sure, they had known for centuries that salting or drying helped it last longer. But it wasn’t fun getting through a long winter on dried meat, fruits and vegetables.

Appert gave the world the first modern food preservation techniques. He was a pioneer in using airtight canning to preserve comestibles. (Though he started using empty champagne bottles instead of the tin cans we know today.) He won Napoleon’s prize, and fame soon followed.

But the Bonapartes weren’t finished making contributions to culinary culture. Half a century later, the original Napoleon’s nephew was sitting on the throne of a revived French Empire. And he was growing tired of hearing his soldiers complain about their chow.

Napoleon III realized something extra was needed, something that was essential to the French palate. An old joke reminds us that the three secrets to French cooking are “Butter, butter, and more butter.”

But there was a problem, and it was a biggie. Butter must be kept refrigerated. Because it easily melts. And when that happens, it makes a big mess. Hardly an ideal situation for field kitchens.

On top of that, France was experiencing a butter shortage, forcing the poor to go without their beloved butter.

So, like his famous namesake, Napoleon III issued a challenge in 1869: Come up with a new butter substitute. And just as had happened before, another inventor stepped forward.

Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès was a French chemist. He mixed processed beef tallow with skimmed milk. He tinkered with it a little more and found it made a good spread on bread and could be stored at higher temperatures than traditional butter. And it was much cheaper to produce than the real thing.

He called his discovery oleomargarine. You and I know it by its shortened name, margarine.

Two centuries later, you’ll find ample canned food and margarine stocks at your local grocery store. Health food advocates and cooking purists may lift their noses at both in contempt, but food prices make each look more appealing to many consumers these days.

Canned foods and margarine help many Americans make it through tough times. And we have two French emperors from long ago to thank for it.

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Yuletide at Devon Opens Magical Christmas Village

Imagine entering a Victorian village with quaint cottages bursting with gifts, delicious food and drink, carolers singing Christmas songs, and amusement rides for the kids.

You’ve entered Yuletide at Devon at the iconic Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. The decorations and lights make an enchanting backdrop to wander about, sample food and drinks, and shop or ride a Ferris wheel or old-fashioned carousel.

Villanova resident Bob Bickhart, owner of event company Spectacle Reality, and his son, Jes Bickhart, a producer in Los Angeles, welcomed people at a press preview last Monday. Yuletide at Devon runs until Dec. 31.

“This is a first-of-its-kind festival,” said Jes Bickhart. “It combines food and wine. It combines rides and music. You can see a 2,000-foot stage being built now. It’s fun to bring all these elements together to celebrate the holidays, to celebrate family.”

Bob Brickhart said it was “a pleasure” to work with the Devon Horse Show people, the folks at Tredyffrin and Easttown townships, food provider Strother, and sponsors Aqua PA and Independence Blue Cross.

Bob Bickhart told DVJournal they had been thinking of bringing a German-style Christmas market, such as Saltzburg, to the suburbs for several years and looked at venues, including sites in Doylestown and Lancaster County.

But he is pleased that they were able to strike a deal to rent the Devon Horse Show grounds.

“We wanted to take advantage of it if we could make it work,” he said. “We want to be a celebration of the holiday. We’d love to be back (next year).”

Many of the 37 small shops were filled with winter sweaters, hats, gloves and mittens, such as an offering from Cranberry Street Boutique of Royerford. Others had jewelry or toys on display.

Melissa Morales brought a variety of her handmade, organic Melmo’s dog treats, cat treats, and various items, such as charming dog breed nutcrackers, that will appeal to pet owners.

Morales, of South Philadelphia, has been in business for six years. She has booths at two other Christmas venues, one in Easton and one in Bethlehem. Her products are also available at Giant stores and online.

Chris LeVine, with the Inn at Grace Winery in Glen Mills, was also on hand getting his onsite shop squared away.

“We grow it,” said LeVine. “We bottle it. We sell it. We’re pleased to be here.”

Strother Enterprises’ Legacy Culinary Group curated a festive menu for guests to enjoy while attending the holiday festival. Minority-owned and Philadelphia-based Legacy Culinary Group, led by Chef Chris Nguyen, offers Devon a gourmet farm-to-table experience. Both Yuletide and Strother are family-owned and operated.

The menu will include internationally inspired dishes like creamy mac and cheese cups topped with brisket burnt ends, currywurst and pomme frites, lemongrass chicken, grilled short ribs Bulgogi, fried chicken and waffles, prosciutto and arugula pizza, Thai noodle salad, grilled raclette on sourdough with fig jam, and banana Nutella crepes.

The food is paired with craft drinks, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic holiday-themed beverages.

“We are excited to partner with Jes and Rob to bring this one-of-a-kind holiday festival to the region,” said Natasha Strother Lassiter, chief strategy officer of Strother Enterprises. “We’ve designed an elevated menu exclusively for Yuletide to celebrate the time-honored tradition of holiday gatherings. Guests will enjoy a festive, farm-to-table food experience where every dish will speak to our legacy of timeless, world-class cuisine.”

Tickets are $34.99 for adults and $22.99 for children 3 to 8. Children younger than 3 are free. Food, drinks, live music, pictures with Santa, and amusement rides are included.


Inflation Drives DelVal Families to Food Cupboards for Help

Inflation bites during this era of Bidenomics. And poor families are the ones being bitten.

A recent study showed that for those households that used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) increased pandemic benefits, 43 percent skipped meals last month, and 55 percent ate less because they couldn’t afford food. According to a report from Propel Inc., that was more than double last year’s rate.

Also, more households had utilities shut off or could not pay their rent.

Those households receiving SNAP are at or below the federal poverty line of $30,000 annually for a family of four.

According to the U.S. Census, real median post-tax household income in 2022 was 8.8 percent lower than in 2021.

The Census reports the poorest areas of the Delaware Valley include the city of Chester, Darby Borough and Darby Township, Sharon Hill, and Colwyn in Delaware County; parts of West Chester and Coatesville in Chester County; and Norristown and Pottstown in Montgomery County.

Liz Hagedorn, director of Nutritional Development Services, which is affiliated with the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, agreed inflation drives the need for more people to ask for help. Her organization sponsors 50 food cupboards in the five-county area.

Nicolino Ellis welcomes clients to the Jenkintown Food Cupboard.

“We are seeing the cost of not only food but also utilities and other items that families need just to get by have all gone up tremendously,” said Hagedorn. “And very few of those items have come back down in price. And we are seeing an increase at the food cupboards and people in the street, as well, coming in for more food.”

Nicolino Ellis, director of the Jenkintown Food Cupboard at the United Methodist Church, said he sees more people signing up for food.

As of Sept. 1, 2022, the church had 275 new families as clients. It has 382 new families this year, “over a third increase,” he noted.

And in August 2022, it had 870 visits (some families made multiple visits). This year, there were 1,165 visits to the food cupboard.

“That’s a massive increase,” he said. Inflation is partly to blame based on the increase of elderly people on fixed incomes who are coming in for food, he explained. They also have more Ukrainian refugees: 50 of 65 families who recently signed up are Ukrainian refugees “who had never been here before,” said Ellis, who greets clients as they drive in and seems to know everyone’s name.

“Last month, there were 76 new families,” said Ellis. “That’s a really high number.” In 2022, about 20 families a month signed up, he said.

Last Thursday, a steady stream of people drove up to get their food allocation. The food cupboard also offers personal care items and baby care needs like shampoo and diapers.

Jenkintown Food Cupboard volunteer Bess Kaufman fills a cart for a client.

Volunteers act as personal shoppers and fulfill the clients’ lists. They know their likes and dislikes. The food cupboard has 175 volunteers with 70 alternating weeks.

Ellis pointed out that giving fish to someone who does not like fish would be wasteful.

“We’re trying to eliminate some of the stigma of being food insecure,” he said. They also have a fund to help smaller food pantries in the area supply fresh food, not just “shelf staples.”

The food cupboard offers fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and almond milk,  eggs, various kinds of meat, and staples like rice and pasta. It has storage rooms in the building it rents from the church with shelving and refrigerators. It is raising money for a warehouse, he said. However, it will keep the present site for clients to pick up their supplies.

About a third of the food cupboard’s money comes from federal funds through the state and county, with the remainder from donations. Many religious institutions and schools collect food for it. Food is collected through Philabundance and the Share Food Program, and fresh produce is purchased from a distributor.

“Last year, we gave away almost a half million pounds of food,” he said.

Hagedorn thinks more people will feel the pinch in October when they must begin repaying their student loans.

“I think a lot of young people and older people are going to feel that squeeze in their budget, as well,” said Hagedorn.

“They’re saying the inflation rate has gone down,” she said. “That it’s more manageable. But I don’t see it. I mean, I know from my own personal experience when you go food shopping, have you seen the price of anything go down? No. I’m thinking, where are these people (who say that) shopping?”

More people are reaching out for help, she said.

“You know what Jesus said, ‘Everyone is your neighbor.’ So that’s what we do,” said Hagedorn.

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HARRIS: Family Farms Are the Bedrock of American Agriculture

Rising feed, fertilizer, fuel costs and global pressures have put the American farmer at a crossroads. The large, multinational agribusiness conglomerates who have come to dominate our nation’s food chain would like nothing more for regular Americans to think that their mass-produced meats are the only options available.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Small and family-owned farms are vital to ensuring American families have a variety of choices to find their favorite foods at their local grocery stores, markets and, increasingly, direct to the consumer from the farm itself.

Big Ag is increasingly threatened by family farms that pride themselves on the humane treatment of the animals they raise and the farmworkers they employ, such that they have pumped untold amounts of money into taking their fight to the Supreme Court.

This fall, Big Ag is asking the Supreme Court to give them unprecedented power to dictate the rules of play for the entire farming industry and the agricultural conditions in America. The case was filed by the National Pork Producers Council after a successful campaign by the voters of California to encourage the humane treatment of farm animals and better food safety by banning the sale of products in California sourced from animals kept in extreme confinement. Even though courts have sided repeatedly with California voters every time this issue has been questioned, the highest court in the land is set to hear a case that threatens family farms and Californians who want humanely raised, safer food.

An adverse outcome could unravel states’ rules and regulations throughout the country, giving Big Ag the upper hand it needs to exploit its market share, economies of scale, vertically integrated business model, and anti-competitive behavior to take over agriculture in America. If the Supreme Court chooses to allow Big Ag to use its business decisions to resist state regulation, the court will be declaring these multinational conglomerates too big to regulate and making them unaccountable for how they treat their animals and their workers.

These large corporate entities have been crushing family farms. For example, in the last 30 years, nearly 90 percent of hog farmers have been put out of business as multinational conglomerates have grown their massive production facilities. Now, this case could put the family farms that have been able to survive in jeopardy of losing it all to multinational corporations seeking to control the entire pork market.

Big Ag has been fighting for decades to achieve unchecked growth and power in states across the Midwest and Southeast. These campaigns have been so effective that the typical consumer has no idea the products they buy can often come at the expense of the communities that most rural America calls home.

Factory farms do not result in the same economic benefits that come from offering meaningful employment to members of the community. Moreover, poor working conditions on factory farms often result in even poorer treatment of animals. Pigs kept in inhumane conditions are more likely to get diseases that can be passed on in the pork sold in grocery stores. Those diseases can also be harder to treat, or even untreatable, because of rampant antibiotic resistance on factory farms. Scientific experts recommend reducing disease spread in animals on farms to reduce food-safety risks to people.

Big Ag wants customers to believe there is only one way to farm and breed animals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, small and family farms have found incredible success selling free-range chicken, pork and dairy products to health-focused and environmentally conscious consumers. And in the case of pork, there are many different customer specifications, like organic, all-natural, antibiotic-free or crate-free. It is small farms that are meeting these consumer demands, and customers are choosing what works best for their families when given the opportunity.

If the Supreme Court sides with the intentions of these agribusiness conglomerates, industrial factory farms will continue to put family farms out of business and deny consumers any real choice in the meat products they cook for their families.

American agriculture, anchored by small and family farms, has been the bedrock of our society since the Framers wrote the Constitution. The court should not let Big Ag win this case to undo the choices of the consumers and keep animals in extreme confinement solely in the name of multinational profits.

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LOMBORG: How to Alleviate the Looming Global Hunger Crisis

global food crisis is looming, so policymakers everywhere need to think hard about how to make food cheaper and more plentiful. That requires making a commitment to producing more fertilizer and better seeds, maximizing the potential offered by genetic modification, and abandoning the rich world’s obsession with organics.

Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine is making less food available because the two nations have been responsible for more than a quarter of global wheat exports and big quantities of barley, corn and vegetable oil. On top of punishing climate policies and the world emerging from the pandemic, prices of fertilizer, energy and transport are soaring, and food prices have climbed 61 percent over the last two years.

The war has exposed some harsh truths. One is that Europe — which portrays itself as a green energy trailblazer — is highly reliant on Russian gas, especially when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. The war has reaffirmed the basic reality that fossil fuels remain crucial for the vast majority of global needs. And the emerging food crisis now reveals another harsh truth: organic farming cannot feed the world and could even worsen future crises.

Long simply a fashionable trend for the world’s 1 percent, environmentalists have increasingly peddled the beguiling idea that organic farming can solve hunger. The European Union is actively pushing for a tripling of organic farming on the continent by 2030, while a majority of Germans actually think organic farming can help feed the world.

However, research conclusively shows that organic farming produces much less food than conventional farming per acre. Moreover, organic farming requires farmers to rotate soil out of production for pasture, fallow or cover crops, reducing its effectiveness. In total, organic approaches produce between a quarter and half less food than conventional, scientific-driven agriculture.

This not only makes organic food more expensive, but it means that organic farmers would need much more land to feed the same number of people as today — possibly almost twice the area. Given that agriculture currently uses 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free land, switching to organics would mean destroying large swathes of nature for less effective production.

The catastrophe unfolding in Sri Lanka provides a sobering lesson. The government last year enforced a full transition to organic farming, appointing organics gurus as agricultural advisers, including some who claimed dubious links between agricultural chemicals and health problems. Despite extravagant claims that organic methods could produce comparable yields to conventional farming, within months the policy produced nothing but misery, with some food prices quintupling.

Sri Lanka had been self-sufficient in rice production for decades, but tragically has now been forced to import $450 million worth of rice. Tea, the nation’s primary export crop and source of foreign exchange, was devastated, with economic losses estimated at $425 million. Before the country spiraled downward toward brutal violence and political resignations, the government was forced to offer $200 million in compensation to farmers and come up with $149 million in subsidies.

Sri Lanka’s organic experiment failed fundamentally because of one simple fact: it does not have enough land to replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer with animal manure. To shift to organics and keep production, it would need five to seven times more manure than its total manure today.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, mostly made with natural gas, are a modern miracle, crucial for feeding the world. Largely thanks to this fertilizer, agricultural outputs were tripled in the last half-century, as the human population doubled. Artificial fertilizer and modern farming inputs are the reason the number of people working on farms has been slashed in every rich country, freeing people for other productive occupations.

In fact, one dirty secret of organic farming is that, in rich countries, the vast majority of existing organic crops depend on imported nitrogen laundered from animal manure, which ultimately comes from fossil fuel fertilizers used on conventional farms.

Without those inputs, if a country — or the world — were to go entirely organic, nitrogen scarcity quickly becomes disastrous, just like we saw in Sri Lanka. That is why research shows going organic globally can only feed about half the current world population. Organic farming will lead to more expensive, scarcer food for fewer people, while gobbling up more nature.

To sustainably feed the world and withstand future global shocks, we need to produce food better and cheaper. History shows that the best way to achieve that is by improving seeds, including by using genetic modification, along with expanding fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation. This will allow us to produce more food, curb prices, alleviate hunger and save nature.

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Holy Cow! History: Meet the Real Gerber Baby

Ann Turner Cook may not be a household name, but her face has been found in nearly every Amercian household for almost all of the 95-year-old’s life. (She celebrated her birthday late last month.)

Ann was the inspiration for the Gerber Baby.

“You must have been a beautiful baby,” an old song once said. And little Ann certainly was lovely. So lovely, in fact, that when she was just a few months old a neighbor decided to sketch her.

Dorothy Hope Smith was a noted commercial artist. Among her many artistic accomplishments was drawing a series of famous “Ivory Soap Baby” illustrations for Procter & Gamble.

Dorothy appreciated the twinkle in little Ann’s eyes and set about rendering her likeness in charcoal. Everyone in the neighborhood agreed it was a lovely sketch.

And so it might have remained until some unknown advertising genius came up with a bright idea in 1928. Gerber was preparing to launch a new line of baby foods. It held a competition to find the Gerber Baby.

Friends told Dorothy she should submit her sketch of baby Ann. The artist argued it was just a preliminary drawing and wasn’t finished. But she apparently thought, “What have I got to lose?” and mailed off the etching along with a letter asking what age baby they wanted and how big the ad would be. She said she would finish the sketch later if it was chosen.

The company was flooded with thousands of entries showing little darlings of shapes, ages, and sizes. And Gerber picked Ann’s portrait from them all. Dorothy was flattered and promised to complete the drawing. “Don’t touch it!” the Gerber folks told her. They loved the drawing’s simplicity and directness.

Dorothy received a $300 prize (about $5,000 today) and Ann gained advertising immortality. Her face graced millions of jars of food that fed her peers, their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren, and now their great-great-grandchildren.

With her infant modeling days behind her, Ann went on to earn several college degrees, including a master’s in education. She taught English at elementary, middle, and high schools in Florida for many years, and even found time to write a series of mystery novels set on Florida’s Gulf Coast. While her early claim to fame was always fun to talk about, she never traded on it — well, except perhaps for a featured guest appearance in a 1990 episode of “To Tell the Truth.”

On a related note, a persistent Urban Myth surrounds the famous face on the baby food bottle. It says 1940s movie tough guy Humphrey Bogart posed for the drawing as an infant. You know, the star who portrayed cynical Rick Blaine in “Casablanca,” shady detective Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon,” and grizzled Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen.” Not the kind of image that appeals to moms buying food for babies.

But it’s easy to see how the mix-up started. Bogart’s mother Maud Humphrey was a well-known commercial illustrator in the early 1900s. She was so successful, her artwork earned more money than her husband, a cardiopulmonary surgeon, made! And she did, in fact, use a drawing of her young son in a Mellins Baby Food advertising campaign. But Bogart was not the Gerber Baby.

So, a belated happy 95th birthday, Ann. As Bogie would have said, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

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