I’m not a jingoist, but I’d prefer that more of my food came from America. It’d be even better, really, if most of it came from within a few hundred miles of where we live. We’d be more secure and better served, and our land would be better used. And I’d feel prouder, as if we had a food culture rather than a food fetish.
– Mark Bittman
Did you read the semi-recent Mark Bittman piece on local food? If not, perhaps you heard about it. It’s been a tad controversial, as is often the case with the locavore movement.
There were plenty o’ naysayers and haters that responded – with a great deal more intelligence than one might usually see in any online comments section (there were punctuation marks and everything!) – and don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of lively debate. One thing that I am most grateful for after many travels is the American right to free speech – you can have an opinion and make it known. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also get a little annoyed by some of the opinions. And to the naysayers in question, I would like to say: Stop it.
Local food is not about turning back the clock and reverting to 17th century culinary processes. It is, in fact, quite the opposite – it’s about progression. Look, no one is going to come at you with a spiked reusable grocery bag when you walk out of a store with an apple in April or bananas, er, anytime of the year. Part of the problem (and there are so, so, SO many parts) with the food industry in general is that as we have become dependent on the imports, the importers have become dependent on our dependence — it would not be any kind of good for the Honduran economy if America up and stopped importing their bananas. But the carbon footprint those bananas leave doesn’t leave the environment satisfied and smiling, either – it’s a problem. Bittman is a pretty smart guy, especially when it comes to this very complicated topic. This is not news to him, and it’s probably not news to you either.
Why is local food such a big effin deal in this country? It seems to be a lot more natural in Europe, doesn’t it? Yes. Another part of this problem is the mere size of our country – you could fit a couple Italys and maybe a Luxembourg or 2 and still have amber waves of grain to spare. When an American wants to “eat local,” it could mean they start buying food from a farm down the road, or just that they trade their Australian strawberries for a carton from California.
It’s a headache of an issue, especially when you throw in our not-exactly-thriving economy. I don’t know Mr. Bittman personally or otherwise, but I’m quite sure he is not suggesting that the country pull on the Puritan caps and become a collection of isolated communities. If he is…well, I’d have some pretty different words for him. But this is the man who wrote the book How to Cook Everything – I really don’t think he’s got food isolationism on the brain.
What I hope he is saying – and what I definitely agree with – is that steps have got to be taken in the right direction. This is one of those sneaky issues that no one cares about right now because our economic and political environments are so, for lack of a better word, charged – but it needs to be talked about. This is not a yuppie elitist movement. This is not a crunchy-granola-lets-save-the-world-one-commune-at-a-time movement. This is about food, one of our most basic of needs.
Our country is in a fascinating place right now. We have been swinging from one extreme to the other for the past decade, and are just now fighting to find a reasonable, rational balance. But amidst all this swinging, I feel like I see a lot of denial about the general state of things: our environment, our health, our food. I’m not a big fan of sweeping generalizations, especially when it comes to what is or isn’t “American,” because that single adjective could mean three hundred and fifty-five different things; but you know what? I’m gonna make one. We have very high standards in this country – and I’ve found all too often that can mean we take very basic things for granted. Those who roll their eyes when someone starts in on the global food crisis, or the importance of finding greener energy sources don’t just make me mad; they make me nervous. This is not the time to stick our heads in the sand like some fat red white & blue ostrich. We have a mind-boggling & constantly-growing arsenal of knowledge and technology literally at our fingertips every second of the day; the future comes a lot faster now than it did one hundred years ago. We are more capable than ever of dealing with the future & the problems we can actually see coming. So please, don’t laugh off a movement just because the idea of the crisis it is working to preemptively resolve makes you uncomfortable. The struggle to feed the 8-billionth person is gonna be a hell of a lot more uncomfortable if movements like this don’t continue to grow & thrive.