Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

5.03.2006

Talk Is Cheap

And in this case I'm all talk. I haven't bothered to learn about what the options are in my area or take any action related to what is in this article, but I really like the idea. It makes sense on so many levels--except maybe the short-term economic--to personalize and localize our interactions and food is a great way to start. Sustainability. I'm hoping this movement grows, and may investigate how I might be a part. It's a long read, so I've pulled out some excerpts.

No Bar Code

He went on to explain that Polyface does not ship long distance, does not sell to supermarkets, and does not wholesale its food. All of the meat and eggs that Polyface produces is eaten within a few dozen miles or, at the most, half a day’s drive of the farm—within the farm’s “foodshed.” At first I assumed Joel’s motive for keeping his food chain so short was strictly environmental—to save on the prodigious quantities of fossil fuel Americans burn moving their food around the country and, increasingly today, the world. (The typical fruit or vegetable on an American’s plate travels some 1,500 miles to get there, and is frequently better traveled and more worldly than its eater.) But after taking Joel up on his offer to drive down to Swoope, Virginia, to pick up a chicken, I picked up a great deal more—about the renaissance of local food systems, and the values they support, values that go far beyond the ones a food buyer supports when he or she buys organic in the supermarket. It turns out that Joel Salatin, and the local food movement he’s become an influential part of, is out to save a whole lot more than energy.

I asked Joel how he answers the charge that because food like his is more expensive, it is inherently elitist. “I don’t accept the premise,” he replied. “First off, those weren’t any ‘elitists’ you met on the farm this morning. We sell to all kinds of people. Second, whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that, with our food, all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water—of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.”

Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring—to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. This is why the American food industry and its international counterparts fight to keep their products from telling even the simplest stories—“dolphin safe,” “humanely slaughtered,” etc.—about how they were produced. The more knowledge people have about the way their food is produced, the more likely it is that their values—and not just “value”—will inform their purchasing decisions.

“Opting out” is a key term for Joel, who believes that it would be a fatal mistake to “try to sell a connected, holistic, ensouled product through a Western, reductionist, Wall Street sales scheme”—by which (I think) he means selling to big organic supermarkets like Whole Foods. As far as Joel is concerned, there isn’t a world of difference between Whole Foods and Wal-Mart. Both are part of an increasingly globalized economy that turns any food it touches into a commodity, reaching its tentacles wherever in the world a food can be produced most cheaply and then transporting it wherever it can be sold most dearly.

Shortly before I traveled to Virginia, I’d reread an essay by Wendell Berry in which he argued that reversing the damage done to local economies and the land by the juggernaut of world trade would take nothing less than “a revolt of local small producers and local consumers against the global industrialism of the corporations.” He detected the beginnings of such a rebellion in the rise of local food systems and the growing market “for good, fresh, trustworthy food, food from producers known and trusted by consumers.” Which, as he points out, “cannot be produced by a global corporation.” Berry would have me believe that what I was seeing in the Polyface salesroom represented a local uprising in a gathering worldwide rebellion against what he calls “the total economy.”

To participate in a local food economy requires considerably more effort than shopping at the Whole Foods. You won’t find anything microwavable at the farmer’s market or in your weekly box of organic produce from the CSA, and you won’t find a tomato in December. The local food shopper will need to put some work into sourcing his own food—learning who grows the best lamb in his area, or the best sweet corn. And then he will have to become reacquainted with his kitchen. Much of the appeal of the industrial food chain is its convenience; it offers busy people a way to delegate their cooking (and food preservation) to others. At the other end of the industrial food chain that begins in a cornfield in Iowa sits an industrial eater at a table. (Or, increasingly, in a car.) The achievement of the industrial food system over the past half-century has been to transform most of us into precisely that creature.

2 Comments:

At 5/03/2006 4:43 PM, Blogger The Girl in Black said...

I welcome the intent of Polyface, and hope they will make an impact. Not holding my breath, though.

The Merc in Lawrence may stock local vendors, not sure. I always like to go up there, since they are trying to help the planet. Then again, I'm contributing air pollution by driving up there. Oy.

Only to play devil's advocate, I can say from experience that quality can be lost with organic food. Growth may be stunted, and non-augmented food is more susceptible to disease.

Non-preserved food will also spoil sooner. This usually isn't a problem if folks buy as they consume. Given that most shop on paydays, they stock more than a few days' food supply.

 
At 5/03/2006 7:54 PM, Blogger Kelly Sime said...

Whole Foods stocks organic produce and non rgb hormonal dairy products. They also have free range eggs and naturally grown meat. Most local farmers use pesticides and hormones.

 

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