Focus on what matters:
-Health: Obesity-related illness is not a myth. Exercise is unlikely to be the key to fixing this, so public-health-wise, concern regarding diet does make sense. If this can be fixed ala Pollan via switching from corn subsidies to no subsidies or efficient ones, so be it, but I know nothing about agriculture and so will stop before my local, organic foot makes its way to my mouth.
-Taste: Taste is relative. Kind of. But if the idea is to eat more fruits and vegetables (and, depending which week, seafood), the fact is that produce can be anything from delicious to inedible depending what condition it's in - unlike, say, cake, which ranges from very good to good. The Alice Waters method for vegetables works great, but only works if the vegetables themselves are non-disgusting. The way to get everyone eating better is to get better-tasting healthy food into stores.
-Price and availability: If you're rich and live in Berkeley, seems getting good food isn't a problem. If you're anyone else living in this country, chances are it is. The issues of class and region, then, are key. (I'd also like to declare a moratorium on self-righteous lectures in the national press on 'eating local' from journalists in the Bay Area. Have they seen the markets here? Do they understand that we're lucky these days to find kale? And this is Manhattan...)
-Sustainability: Local or organic? Veganism or meat raised right? Whichever it is, someone should figure this out, so those wishing to eat in a way that's environmentally sound can do so rationally, as opposed to the 'ooh, it's like organic, yum' line of thought.
And not on what doesn't:
-Slowing things down: Some people enjoy spending five hours at the dinner table, cooking slowly, savoring each bite. Others don't. It's not immediately clear to me why the second group needs to adopt the habits of the first. Sure, eating too quickly might correlate with eating fast food which might mean obesity and so forth. But the non-savorers might also be those who simply don't care about food as much as the savorers, who'd rather spend their time doing something else than sucking on a lentil. For some, busyness translates to fast food and so on; others point to the busiest times in their lives as the slimmest. In other words, if we should all be eating less, it's not clear that slowing down our food consumption and attempting to derive a greater proportion of our pleasure from eating than from other activities will necessarily help the cause. (Also, to Maira Kalman - what's wrong with "fast walking"? Of all the facets of modern life, isn't this one we ought to encourage?)
-Knowing the ins and outs of farm life: We are asked to know where our food comes from. This is a different matter from knowing whether our food is produced ethically, sustainably, etc. It is now considered particularly honorable to know what goes into growing vegetables, to know not only if animals were raised and (if for meat) killed humanely but exactly how they are butchered, milked, etc. It's all quaint and charming, but really, why does it matter? If the point is that farmers work hard, the same could be said for so many other jobs that benefit us all but whose inner workings no one asks us to contemplate. (My building, for instance, has 10,000 floors. Someone had to have built it, and this was surely more strenuous than grading a stack of 18 French essays.) While it helps to have consumer representatives on the case, we don't each of us, individually, need to know where our food came from. (And, for David Lebovitz - the woman haggling over cilantro while "holding a very expensive Louis Vuitton handbag" could well have been wearing a fake. The presence of the letters L and V on a purse do not necessarily imply thousands spent. No one can tell the difference, or at least, I can't, but my purse is unadorned and from H&M circa 2004, so I might not be the best example. A good test in this case would be whether she went on to put her purchases in the bag, using it like a canvas tote.)
-Europhilic locavorism/terroirism: It is entirely possible to eat well - ethically, taste-wise, health-wise - without having any nostalgia whatsoever for small-town life or a particular village in Tuscany. (Do I repeat myself?) If the very thought of a fantasy version of Provence is what motivates you personally to put down the Fritos, go for it, but the same notion is a turn-off to others who might otherwise get on board.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Focus on what matters:
Posted by Phoebe Maltz Bovy at Friday, November 27, 2009