Daily Essentials | 15 August 2016

Mostly women and children work at a field to process dry red chili peppers in Sanliurfa, Turkey on August 12, 2016. After red chili peppers are separated from their stems they dry under the sun and workers split them into pieces by hand. Later on they go through the machine process to break them into pieces. Photo credit: Halil Fidan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images.

Featured image of red chili peppers in Sanliurfa, Turkey (Halil Fidan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images) via Big Picture Agriculture: Global Food and Agriculture Photos August 14, 2016

THE PROGRESSIVE FARMER | CHRIS CLAYTON | Groups Pushing USDA to Further Help Dairy Farmers

It’s very likely USDA will announce some new purchases of cheese through various program authorities in the very near future as a way to help dairy farmers deal with a glut of production and the lowest prices since 2009, which was the peak of the recession.

Following a bi-partisan letter from 62 members of Congress calling for dairy aid, USDA announced $11.2 million in payments earlier this month from the 2014 farm bill feed-cost program, the Margin Protection Program. Still, farm groups are calling for USDA to purchase $50 million to $150 million in cheese to take some of the domestic milk off the market.

Late last week saw a spate of letters and news releases from farm organizations calling on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take additional actions because the payments from the MPP have been inadequate to help farmers with the fall in dairy prices over the past three years. The MPP program paid out very little before the $11.2 million payment announced earlier this month.

GRIST | NATHANAEL JOHNSON | Why the heck isn’t drought-stricken California measuring water?

California has the world’s sixth-largest largest economy (just ahead of France), and it runs on water. But unless it settles upon some sensible way of fixing its accounting for water, the state will only be useful for shooting remakes of Dune and Mad Max.

Other states are far ahead it comes to managing water, but the climate demands that California sprint to the front of the pack. The PPIC report shows what must be done. If the state manages to get this right, there’s hope for the rest of the brittle West. I’ve boiled these problems and solutions down to a few main points.

CIVIL EATS | WHITNEY PIPKIN | Why This Food Bank is Turning Away Junk Food

The largest hunger-fighting organization in the nation’s capital has put food-donating retailers on notice: no more candy, sugary sodas, or sheet cakes. As key as donations are to the nonprofit’s bottom line, the Capital Area Food Bank recently told retailers that, beginning this fall, it won’t accept free food that comes at a cost to recipients—many of whom struggle with obesity and diabetes as much as hunger.

NPR | THE SALT | The Power Of Worm Poop

For a variety of reasons — more on that later — vermicomposting is unlikely to make a dent in large-scale agribusiness. But for subsistence farmers in rural regions, worm-aided farming can change lives, says Kate Schecter, CEO of World Neighbors, an international development organization that works in 13 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In Nepal and other countries, the organization has helped people save money and invest in worms.

“Vermicomposting is not going to solve the world’s food problems, that’s for sure,” Schecter says. “But I have seen it all over the world now very successfully used by small-scale farmers to create healthier soil and healthier crops.” They grow more food for themselves instead of having to buy food, she says, and they can generate income as well by selling their produce.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES | STEVEN KURUTZ | The Depressing Food of the Depression, in ‘A Square Meal’

In March 1933, shortly after ascending to the presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat down to lunch in the Oval Office. A gourmand, President Roosevelt had a taste for fancy Fifth Avenue foods like pâté de foie gras and Maryland terrapin soup.

His menu that day was more humble: deviled eggs in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes and, for dessert, prune pudding.

“It was an act of culinary solidarity with the people who were suffering,” Jane Ziegelman said. Her husband, Andrew Coe, added, “It was also a message to Americans about how to eat.”

The couple, who live in Brooklyn Heights, are food historians. Mr. Coe’s last book, “Chop Suey,” was about Chinese cuisine in America, while Ms. Ziegelman told the story of life in a Lower East Side tenement through food in her book “97 Orchard.”

Their new, collaborative work, “A Square Meal,” which will be published Tuesday by Harper, is a history of American food in the Great Depression. Showing some culinary solidarity of their own, they met a reporter for dinner at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, a tiny no-frills lunch counter in the Flatiron district that has been in business since the year of the crash, 1929.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES | JULIA MOSKIN | Building a Better Vegetable Gratin

A gratin of summer vegetables should be the easiest thing in the world to make in August: a no-recipe breeze for the carefree summer cook. Slice up squash, tomatoes, etc.; arrange attractively; bake.

But this sunny, soap-commercial method has never worked for me. My gratins are often swamped with tomato water filled with slices of raw onions and overcooked zucchini, and topped with a pale, dusty desert of bread crumbs.

This summer, I set out to solve all of the problems, feeling my way to a not-soggy, crisp-topped, satisfying gratin.

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