Articles

Sam Fromartz's writing has appeared in Fortune, Small Business, Inc., Business Week, The Nation, AfarThe New York Times, The Washington Post and the anthology, Best Business Stories of the Year


The gluten-free trend is growing, but is it all just hype?

February 2015

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A few years ago, when I began writing a book about grains and bread, the first question I usually got when I mentioned the project was: “Why are so many people having problems with wheat?” In many ways the question encapsulated the current anxiety around bread and wheat, which has gyrated from a source of sustenance for humanity into a toxic pariah.

Wheat—and the main protein it contains, gluten— has been cited as a cause of weight gain, “brain fog,” skin rashes, joint pain, headaches, tiredness, allergies, gas, intestinal distress, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and, in the case of celiac disease—where the immune system goes haywire and attacks the body—even death. Yet wheat, which is found not only in bread and pasta, but also in beer and numerous processed foods, makes up one-fifth of all food eaten worldwide and is the number-one source of protein in developing countries. Humans have been eating wheat for around 10,000 years, starting with domestication of wild grasses in the Near East, at the dawn of agriculture. Read the rest here.


Essay: Rising Awareness

December 2014

 

  August 4, 2014

August 4, 2014

In the television series "The Killing," Detective Holder often ends up at a fast-food joint buying a burger — white bread bun with lettuce and tomato, but without the meat. Looking at him eat this sad, bland sandwich, it’s clear that there must be a better way for people seeking a healthier or vegetarian meal.

Luckily there is, with alternative fast-food chains popping up to feed the Holders of the world. Chipotle is the $3.2 billion granddaddy of the set, sourcing meat that is produced without antibiotics and hormones and figuring out how to make beans, brown rice and even spiced tofu a main menu choice rather than a “healthy” side item.

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  January 16, 2013

January 16, 2013

Shortly after I heard from my mother that our close friend, the novelist Sol Yurick, had died at age 87, the obits began appearing. I was glad that Sol, the first serious writer I knew and a strong influence on me as a teenager, was getting recognition. But I was also chagrined that the obits [1] almost exclusively focused on The Warriors, a work he wrote in 1965 about warring New York gangs based loosely on Xenophon’s Anabasis that went on to became a movie and cult hit. Sure, it was a fast read and his most popular work, filled with his requisite cast of rogues, misanthropes, disaffected youth and innocents but the gang bang work hardly defined Sol, who liked to remind people that he wrote it in all of three weeks. His more substantive novels that made a stir in the ‘60s and ‘70s—The Bag,Fertig, and his short story collection, Someone Just Like You—and his later works such as An Island DeathRichard A. and extended nonfiction essay, Metatron, were hardly considered though they defined Sol far more than the Warriors.

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  September 14, 2011

September 14, 2011

Samuel Fromartz’s Zambia research was generously supported by Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet.

When people discuss the food crises in Africa, the focus is usually on production: “Grow more and the food problem will be solved!” But this argument grossly oversimplifies the forces that lead to global food shortages—and the solutions that could ultimately put food back on the table.

Take Zambia, some 2,500 miles south of where a famine is ravaging East Africa. A country the size of France, Zambia has managed to grow more food than it needs, lifting production 48 percent in 2010 to its highest level in two decades. Aided by rains and generous government fertilizer subsidies, Zambia achieved this feat while maintaining a ban on the genetically modified crops that the “grow more” camp often advocates as the foremost solution to hunger.

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  July 28, 2010

July 28, 2010

Bakers, especially obsessed home bakers, are always looking for an edge: a special tip, technique, tool or prayer that will bring their loaf or pizza closer to perfection.

Count me among them. I've baked at home for more than a decade, and although I've made terrific bread - even baguettes - I never thought my pizza made it into the same league as that from Seventh Hill Pizza on Capitol Hill or 2 Amys in Cleveland Park.

I'd tried many recipes, overnight rises, two-day rises, no-knead doughs, sourdough starters, soft imported Italian 00 flour and strong American bread flour, and had gotten pretty good results. But they weren't eye-popping. They weren't extraordinary. And that's what I wanted. Amazing pizza!

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  May 5, 2010

May 5, 2010

If you've ever baked with whole-wheat flour and ended up with something nearly inedible, take heart. That is not unusual, even for professional bakers.

Kim Boyce, a talented Los Angeles pastry chef with a new cookbook on whole-grain baking, remembers the first time she tried making whole-grain muffins at home for her kids. "It was just dreadful. They were heavy, almost leaden," Boyce says.

When Peter Reinhart, a well-known baker, author and teacher, baked his first whole-grain bread, the effort yielded "a thick, dark, leathery crust surrounding an inedible wad of spongy, glutinous paste. It was awful," he wrote in "Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads," which is devoted to rectifying such problems.

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  March 17, 2010

March 17, 2010

HARRISONBURG, VA. -- Huddled in a small pen in the slaughterhouse, the four sheep and two goats were quiet and still. A few men nearby in thick rubber aprons cut away at still-warm carcasses hanging on hooks.

"They don't seem to know what's going on," a visitor remarked.

"Oh, they know," one of the butchers replied. "They know."

Maybe it was that awareness that led the men to work quietly and efficiently, dispatching each animal with a bolt shot to the head, until the last sheep, perhaps realizing that the flock was gone, began to bleat. Then she too fell silent.

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Time to Rise

An amateur baker apprentices with a Paris boulanger and learns the secret of artisan bread

 Premier issue 2009

Premier issue 2009

In Paris, the 9th arrondissement is popular, hip even, dotted with wine shops, boutiques, and boulangeries, but still has the close-knit feel of a residential neighborhood. The streets are lined with old apartment buildings that seem to lean onto the sidewalks. Inside intimate bistros on these quiet, narrow lanes, maître d’s chat with locals as they arrive. One Sunday afternoon last winter, when I visited, the streets were crowded with couples and families out for a leisurely stroll. By 3 a.m. the next day, however, Rue des Martyrs, a main artery in the district, was empty, the stores dark except for a slit of light coming out of the side entrance of the Boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel. Everyone was still asleep. Everyone, that is, except for the bakers—whose ranks I was about to join.

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Rising Empire

L.A. chef Nancy Silverton sold her ultra-trendy bread-baking business for millions. So how'd she pull that off without selling out?

 October 2001

October 2001

Nancy Silverton, a renowned Los Angeles pastry chef, baker and cookbook author, is behind the zinc-and-concrete bar at Campanile, the 12-year-old restaurant she owns with her husband, chef Mark Peel. The bar's packed, and there's an hour's wait for tables in the dining room. As she does each Thursday, Silverton is creating a dozen different sandwiches. She slips a few asparagus spears, prosciutto, goat fontina, and a poached egg onto country white bread. For another creation, she carefully slices rare seared tuna, blankets the fish with braised leeks, generously spreads aioli on the thick-crusted bread, and off it goes.

The gourmet sandwiches are a winning concept for the weeknight crowd. But what really makes these sandwiches is the bread--the faintly nutty and chewy sourdough; the airy, moist ciabatta; and a hearty New York-style rye--which Silverton perfected a dozen years ago at Campanile's sister business, La Brea Bakery, right next door.

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 October 14, 2002

October 14, 2002

WASHINGTON - A curious thing happened on the way to a national organic standard: the small farmer, once at the heart of the organic movement, got left behind.

Talk to those who have farmed organically for years and you will find a surprising number who have decided not to call their produce organic any longer. The costs — administrative, monetary, and philosophical — of using the government-defined label are too great. Only farms certified under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's regime can legally call their produce organic after Oct. 21. (Farms with revenues under $5,000 annually can forgo certification, though they are expected to follow the rules).

At local farmers' markets around the country, you'll find many farmers who say their vegetables are "grown without chemicals" or their meat is "free of antibiotics" but many won't use the "O" word. Others are wondering if they will continue to.

Why are these organic farmers opting out?

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