A TikTok farmer takes us inside the world of out-of-season onion storage

Issue 205: Plus, author Joe Berkowitz on the difficulty of separating cheese production from the meat industry. And stay tuned for my favorite cheese this week.

Hello! Welcome to Nosh Box, a food newsletter. On Mondays, I send a reading guide of food system ideas, and on Thursdays, I dig deeper with an original essay or conversation you can only find here.

Check out last Thursday’s dispatch — How to grapple with problematic progressive restaurants: a conversation with journalist Hannah Black about a Minneapolis restaurant whose outward values did not line up with its treatment of workers

>>“Artisanal American Cheese Was Finally on Top of the World, and Then the World Fell Apart

A really interesting interview with Joe Berkowitz, who wrote a book about American artisanal cheeses that comes out TOMORROW! Get hyped. In this conversation, he touches on how American cheese came to challenge European cheese supremacy on the world stage and how Covid-19 has affected the artisanal cheese industry.

He also talks about how the cheese industry is closely tied to the meat industry. Which makes sense if you think about it — female cows produce milk, but then what happens to the male cows that have impregnated them? Well, beef. Could we separate the two?

“It would involve a lot of drastic changes. We would have to prioritize cow welfare in a way that I seriously think we’re incapable of right now,” he told Jaya Saxena at Eater.

But, he says:

“I know that there’s a saying that happy cows make the best milk, and from what I’ve seen, it’s actually true that the better you treat cows, the better the milk is. And there have been studies showing that when cows are frightened, and uncomfortable, and feel bad all the time, their cortisol shoots up and the milk tastes more bitter. So not only is it unethical, but it tastes bad. But I sort of assume after my experience writing the book that the better farms, and dairies, and creameries use milk from cows that were treated as best as they could be treated.”

>> “The Sick Hellscape of Tortilla Chip Injuries

“His incident report would prove pivotal years later, when Carl and Diane Grady of Pennsylvania allegedly ate “five or six Doritos-brand tortilla chips” that resulted in an esophageal tear and further injury. The couple opted to sue Frito-Lay, alleging their “Doritos are unsafe and defective because they fracture into hard, sharp fragments that are capable of lacerating the esophagus when eaten.””

>>How does onion storage work? …And why are onions in storage?

Seasonality, baybee! Onions don’t grow in North America year-round but people want onions in their grocery stores year-round, so farmers have to keep massive storehouses to meet demand.

Peep this TikTok from Shay Myers, an onion farmer, who explains what’ll happen when onion season comes to a close in a few weeks:

This reality also explains, as Shay points out in another TikTok, why so many onions had to be thrown out at the beginning of the pandemic. When demand tanked, what were farmers supposed to do with warehouses full of onions they’d been storing for months? Some were donated, of course, with farm-to-food-bank movements popping up nationwide, but this couldn’t match the onion sales to food service operations pre-pandemic. So the onions, stuck in storehouses, were starting to go bad — the limits of a food system has attempted to industrialize its way out of the inherent perishability of agricultural products.

In case you missed it:

>>How to grapple with problematic progressive restaurants

Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal made headlines for solidarity with protesters after the murder of George Floyd. “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served,” the owner said. And even before the protests, the restaurant was a community hub and ran a much-lauded aquaponics/low waste program. This made it all the more painful for employees who had to come to work in an allegedly toxic, discriminatory environment.

Last Thursday in Nosh Box, I asked how we grapple with institutions like this, particularly in the food world, that are simultaneously active in community progressivism and also sites of discrimination and pain.

Here’s what Hannah Black, a journalist who reported on the working environment at Gandhi Mahal, told me:

“I think it’s important we’re able to hold multiple ideas in our heads at once — in other words, Gandhi Mahal has done a lot of good in the community over the past 10+ years, but it’s also possible that the restaurant's leadership could have been complicit in and turned a blind eye to harassment and discrimination of its employees. Both can be true, and that’s the case for any organization, and we should keep that in mind — not in a cynical way, but in a way that doesn’t blind us to potentially toxic behaviors happening behind the scenes.”

Read our full conversation here.

>>Check out this garment rack that’s now a whiskey conveyor belt in D.C.

At Whiskey & Oyster in Alexandria, Va., an old dry cleaning conveyor belt loops around the ceiling, holding more than 120 whiskeys. It opened a year ago, so maybe this is old news, but I just saw a TikTok about it that seemed worth sharing. Such a creative use of old equipment!

>>“Irish Court Says Subway Bread Is Too Sugary to Be Called ‘Bread’


My favorite cheese this week is... Kunik! A lil’ softie from upstate New York made with 75% goat milk and 25% Jersey cow cream, so it’s got the bright tanginess of a chevre with the richness of a triple creme brie. It’s dense and buttery, and the bloomy rind gives it a delightfully mushroomy and lactic quality that’s not acidic or ashy, as some other soft goat cheeses can be.

And the farm it comes from, Nettle Meadow in the Adirondacks, is actually an animal sanctuary, primarily. The owners, Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, rescue and care for hundreds of llamas, donkeys, horses, pigs, chickens, and more, along with their production herd of 350+ goats and a bunch of sheep. Cheese sales just make their rescue efforts possible, which is so cool. (Talk about happy animals producing good-tasting cheese!)

If you’re in the Twin Cities, you can find Kunik at France 44 (shameless plug), or at any of these stores. (If you don’t already know about and support your local cheese store — get with it!)