It's time for action on almonds.
The above photo shows almonds lying on the ground shortly after being shaken from a tree. The nuts are covered by a hull, which has started to peel back in the above specimens, and a shell. I took the photo during a CUESA-organized tour of Lagier Ranches in Escalon, California, and will post more photos and an account of the tour soon.
Raw vs. pasteurized
On September 1, the USDA is set to issue a rule requiring pasteurization of almost all almonds sold in the United States. George Raines of the San Francisco Chronicle reported about the rule last week. The almond industry is supposedly concerned about your health: there have been two cases of salmonella caused by almonds since 2001. A more likely reason is that the California Almond Board (which proposed the rule) wants to avoid any potential damage to its reputation from a grower or packing house with poor food-safety practices. Plus, processors will be able to work faster and sloppier — why be careful when the almonds are going to be cooked or gassed anyway, right? The most common method of sterilizing nuts is fumigation using propylene oxide, a potential carcinogen that was briefly used as a gasoline additive for racecars. Oil roasting and blanching are also permitted, and organic growers will likely use steam heating.
Although the rule has been in the works for almost three years, according to the Cornucopia Institute, it received fewer than 20 comments from the public, primarily from people in the almond industry. Clearly, something went wrong in the public consultation process, or the rule was deliberately kept out of the spotlight. Last week, the California Almond Board requested a delay to complete preparations; the USDA denied the request.
The rule has several odd elements. First, in a classic piece of USDA-speak, the pasteurized almonds can still be labeled as "raw." Second, consumers will be able to purchase unpasteurized almonds directly from the grower at farmers markets and farm stands. Third, it does not apply to almonds that will be exported (about 50% of the harvest). On the farm tour, Jen Maiser brought up a good point: if raw almonds are such a dire threat to public health, why have any loopholes at all?
In an ironic twist, the rule is causing the California-based Living Tree Community Foods to start importing lower-quality raw almonds from Europe in order to continue making their raw almond-butter product with truly raw almonds.
Take action: Through their Authentic Almond Project, Cornucopia Institute is leading a last-minute battle against the regulation. Visit their website for more information and action alerts.
Three more photos from Lagier Ranches:
Panoramic photo of the almond orchard
A bunch of Bronx grapes, a very rare (and delicious) variety that is in Slow Food's Ark of Taste