These are dark days for omnivores, what with killer scallions, brain-wasting beef, and the news that we've been munching on the remains of cattle too ill to make it to the slaughterhouse on their own four legs. Not that these revelations should come as any surprise: If the history of human meddling in the natural order has taught us anything, it's that nature has a way of striking back. And there can be no question but that our modern food supply, with its reliance on mechanized meat production and out-of-season produce shipped across thousands of miles, has been cruisin' for a bruisin'.
California chefs such as Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower were considered oddballs in the 1970s, when they began advocating the use of organic, seasonal, locally grown meats and vegetables. Turns out they they were right. Today, more than ever, the "old" ways practiced on the small family farm -- where cows eat grass, not each other, and strawberries come to the table in June, not January -- are key to safe, wholesome products.
Even locally, some people have known this all along. For decades, Phil and Margaret Nabors, the founders of the Mustard Seed Markets in Solon and Fairlawn, have stocked their stores with a wide variety of organic produce and hormone- and antibiotic-free meats. Chef Parker Bosley, also, has spent years preaching the gospel of local, sustainable farm products, backing up his talk by serving those items in his restaurant, Parker's New American Bistro. (Other area restaurants that support local farmers include Flying Fig, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Fire, and Tommy's.) And few have worked harder to save northeast Ohio's small family farms than Donita Anderson and the members of the North Union Farmers' Markets, who brought locally grown produce and naturally raised meats to northeast Ohio plates while simultaneously developing an enthusiastic network of consumers for the farmers' goods.
(More resources crop up every day. For a directory of local Ohio farmers who raise and sell beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products, check out the Ohio Ecological Farm & Food Association's Good Earth Guide, at www.oeffa.com/search-geg.php. Many of the listed farms are certified organic; others "merely" follow sustainable, ecologically sound practices. And to purchase regionally raised premium beef, pork, and lamb online, visit www.farmmarkets.com. FarmMarkets staffers work directly with farms to ensure that no livestock is fed hormones, antibiotics, or growth-enhancers.)
All these people must feel gratified, as well as a little amused, now that the Big Guys are finally coming around. Consider the McDonald's-owned Mexican-restaurant chain, Chipotle, for instance. The quick-service spot exclusively purchases Niman Ranch's free-range pork for its carnitas and will soon switch over to Bell & Evans chicken for all its poultry needs. Why, even grocery chains such as Heinen's and Giant Eagle are increasingly carrying locally grown produce and meats.
If revelations about the risks and limitations of mechanized farming finally pique consumer demands for wholesome foods -- both at home and in restaurants -- and prompt a revival of time-tested farming techniques, our economy, our environment, and our health can all benefit. And then, instead of a nightmare, mad cow disease may prove to have been a wakeup call that was long overdue.
Capsule goes café . . . When DJ Cathryn Sunday bought Capsule, Lakewood's futuristic little restaurant, from founder Chris Andrews in October, her vision "wasn't quite a restaurant." But rather than rush headlong into making changes, she decided to take a "wait-and-see" approach. Come the beginning of February, though, the wait is over: From then on, Capsule will be much more of a neighborhood cyber café. Capsule's long-time chef, Nathan Kemmerer, will remain in the kitchen, but instead of cooking up chicken paprikash and Salisbury steak, he'll turn his talents toward baking cheesecakes, croissants, and pastries. (Soups, salads, sandwiches, hummus, and the popular spinach-and-artichoke dip are all that will remain of the old menu.) The well-stocked bar isn't going anywhere though, nor is the list of trendy 'tinis, in both regular ($9) and tiny ($5) sizes. Expect longer hours -- and discounts for laptop users, too. Capsule is at 13376 Madison Avenue (216-227-7853).
Small bites . . . Listen up, Atkins fans: Beginning this week, chef-owner Roger Thomas, of Akron's Piatto (326 S. Main Street, 330-255-1140), will be cooking up a daily dinner special that strictly conforms to Dr. A's glycemic guidelines. What makes this a better bet than a Whopper in a bowl, you may ask? Thomas's in-depth knowledge of the diet's nutritional ins and outs, for one thing, as well as the chef's finely tuned culinary sensibilities, which hold the promise of artistic presentation and a harmonious variety of food textures, colors, and flavors on every plate. Just try getting that at Burger King . . . There may still be time to snag a ticket for the Thursday, January 22 tasting of French wines at the Beachland Ballroom. The 7 p.m. event will include Gaelic-inspired apps from guest chef Chuck Mosley, followed by a performance by musician and Francophile April March. Cost is $20; make reservations by calling 216-383-1124.