Reading Michael Moss’ book Salt Sugar Fat, I learned something about “2%” milk.

We don’t buy much milk, and when we do we buy whole milk.  But the best-selling milk is “2%” milk.  So what does that mean?  From the book:

Through the 1960s, sales of milk plunged as it bore the brunt of public concerns about fat, both in terms of its calories and its links to heart disease.  At the same time, however, the dairy industry figured out a way to soften this blow to their business by putting the phrases “low-fat” and “2 percent” on milk in which a little of the fat had been removed.  The popularity of this defatted milk grew so fast that it now outsells all other types of milk, including skim, which has no fat at all.  But there is a marketing scheme at work in this:  The “2 percent” labeling may lead you to believe that 98 percent of the fat is removed, but in truth the fat content of whole milk is only a tad higher, at 3 percent. 

If someone had asked me to define “2 percent” milk, I would have guessed it was milk that had 98% of the fat removed.

There’s nothing inherently deceptive about the “2 percent” label, as long as you understand that whole milk could be labeled “3 percent”

Thinking About Words

Linda’s recent post about “fiddlesticks” (the strongest word I ever heard my Granny use) got me to thinking about the words that were acceptable (and not acceptable) when I was a kid.  I recently finished re-reading As I Lay Dying and it brought the subject to mind again, reminding me of how much of our regional vocabulary has been lost (for better or worse).

When I was a boy we used words like “shoot” and “durn,” as in “Shoot! I dropped it.” or “The durn thing is stuck.” To express frustration we used a word that sounded like “Gah-Lee” (I have no idea how to represent phonetically our “Gah”).  So for example, upon being told that we couldn’t go to the store, we might respond “Gah-Lee!”  (imagine the “gah” being drawn out for a syllable or two and in a whiny kind of way).  I suppose our word somehow related to the word “golly” but we never used it in the way I would imagine “golly” to be used.  We also said “daggone” (but pronounced more like “dah-gone”), but never as an adjective.  It was usually used in the way folks might say something like “Wow.”  

We never used the words “lie” or “liar.”  We used the word “story” in it’s place.  So we said things like, “That’s a story,” “He’s telling a story,” or “You’re a story-teller.”  (And we might get punished for saying things like that.)

In those days we had breakfast, dinner and supper.  Lunch was something that only happened at school.

Pants were britches and jeans were dungarees.

I could list many more such examples.

Those words and that way of speaking just faded away, erased largely by television I think.

When I arrived at college in 1978 I brought all my fixings, yonders, reckons and y’alls with me.  But I quickly began to shed them.  My roommate was from Virginia Beach. He found my accent and vocabulary amusing, which caused me to find them embarrassing.  Not long after the semester began I asked him to cut out the lights.  He roared in laughter.  After that, I didn’t use that expression any more.

In college I replaced my durns, shoots and daggones with the more common words from which they were likely derived.  I replaced them with gusto.  And I added some ugly words that I don’t recall ever having heard in my childhood, but which seem as common among young people today as gah-lee was among us.  That was a poor transaction.

These days I don’t care to hide my accent any more.  What’s left of it shall remain.  And now I use words that are helpful and sensible, whether they are commonly used elsewhere or not.   I do try to be a little more careful with how I speak around folks who aren’t used to it. But for the most part, I no longer feel any pressure to conform my speech to some alien standard.

There are some things about our way of speaking back then that I don’t miss but I do wonder if we haven’t surrendered too much.

Feeling nostalgic this morning.

Sadie’s Close Up

A few days ago I linked to the article about the farm that was in our local paper on Saturday.  The online version included a couple of photos, but not Sadie’s close up. This morning I’m extending her 15 minutes of fame by sharing it here.


For some reason the online version featured the picture of me at the chicken coop, rather than this one, which was the feature photo in the print version.


I much prefer this one. So here it is, expanding our own 15 minutes too (as well as Justine’s).

A Minus 60

This morning I walked up to the front of the farm to look at the asparagus patch.  There it was.  Just lying there.  Brown and bare.

But in about two months little spears of goodness should start popping up–the first veggies of the year and one of the best things about this life.

Last year at this time we were still harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, collards, kale and spinach.  But this year, as we brace for yet another arctic blast, our gardens have nothing to offer but the expectation of the coming year.  And that’s fine. May the frozen soil be as inhospitable to the garden-eating bugs wintering beneath it as it has been to the veggies trying to grow above it.

And winter veggies or not, asparagus is on the way.

Making Compost Happen


Making compost is a year-round job here.  I start a new pile every year on the first day of fall, adding to it (and turning it regularly) until the following fall.  The next spring I start using it on the gardens.  Usually it’s all gone by fall, making it a two-year process.

So we always have one pile to which we’re still adding material, and one to which we’ve stopped adding anything.

We don’t use any formula for our compost.  We empty all of our compostable kitchen scraps into the pile year round (less anything the pigs or chickens will eat and the coffee grounds and tea leaves, which the worms get).  In the spring I clean the animal bedding out of all the stalls and sheds and that gets added.  During the summer we add weeds, grass clippings, and garden waste.  In the fall we add leaves.  Whenever I clean a  fish or chicken, they are added to the pile as well.  And anything else that will decompose in a year will also go into the pile.  I have no idea how our mixture compares to the recommended recipes, but it works for us.

Yesterday I took advantage of a break in the weather to clean the gutters–great stuff for compost.  I also raked up a truck load of leaves for the pile.  Adding to the compost pile is a job that’s never finished.

School Lunches

In 2012, in response to the epidemic of childhood obesity,  the USDA imposed maximum limits of caloric intake from meats and grains in school lunches, intending to promote a more balanced and nutritious diet, and specifically more vegetables in the meals. Nearly 32 million children get lunches through the national school lunch program.   As of 2005 (the latest year for which I’ve seen data) 60% of the funding for the school lunch program was spent on meat and less than 5% was spent on fruits and veggies.

Obesity rates among children have doubled in the last 10 years, and have tripled for adolescents.  Approximately a third of all children in the U.S. are now overweight or obese.  The future health consequences of this are staggering.

Nevertheless, the USDA’s move was controversial and many schools complained that it was difficult to implement.  The USDA reimburses schools $2.72 for every free lunch, but after overhead and labor that leaves only about $1 for the actual meal itself. Many complained that suppliers couldn’t provide quantities and portion sizes to work within those parameters and that the one-size-fits-all rule was leaving some kids hungry.  In Congress there was a push to abolish the rule, led by members from the grain and meat-producing states.

In response to the pressure and criticism, last year the USDA temporarily suspended the rule. On January 4 they made that suspension permanent.  Henceforth there is no longer any maximum limit on the amount of meat and bread that can be served in the lunches.

While some within the food movement have attributed the USDA’s change of position to caving in to political pressure from industrial agriculture, it seems that there was plenty of opposition from those charged with implementing the policy too.  No doubt Big Ag’s congressfolks pushed for repeal, but there weren’t many defenders of the policy either.  Giving the actual menu-planners some flexibility seems sensible, but if they feed children diets of corn dogs and pizza, then our tax dollars are not being well-spent and our children are not being well-served.  It’s far more common these days for kids to have nutritional deficiencies arising from diets with too many calories, than from diets with too few.