I’m not planning to write about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. (For a great discussion of the series check out Cook Local‘s recent post.) Oliver’s effort in West Virginia may be doomed, in spite of his success in his native country. I’m no lunch lady — Didn’t everybody call them that? Even before the Simpsons? — but I’ve shown a lot of resistance to changing my own eating habits.
I first read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2007, and it really resonated with me; I admired the reporting and research that went into the book, and enjoyed Pollan’s writing, as I had in The Botany of Desire. But more than that, I was appalled and saddened by what I read, and left with a feeling of hopelessness.
I didn’t see myself becoming a forager, fisherman, or keeping my own chickens. And the book really brought home the fact that corn (the product itself and the subsidies that keep our agriculture system stymied,) is everywhere, and in everything, and that until we break that cycle, not only our food system, but probably our planet is doomed. I read a few food labels, went to the farmer’s market a few times – where I was often shocked by the prices, in spite of my new understanding of the “real price of food”.
And then I went back to my old habits. It’s a lot like the way I’d like to drive a hybrid, but don’t want to pay for it, so I actively choose not to think about it. I don’t have children, and I don’t eat red meat, so I’m pretty much covered on the environmental guilt front.
K.M. and I quit eating mammals for humane, rather than environmental reasons. Just cutting out red meat cold turkey was easy, actually. And in recent years, as I’ve gotten more and more interested in animal welfare issues, I’ve been questioning the poultry I eat, and trying to push our diet in a more vegetarian direction. Food Inc. was pretty much the last straw.
I’ve signed up for a poultry CSA, through Dog Mountain Farm which started a couple of weeks ago and in June I’ll get my first produce and fruit boxes from Local Choice– a local CSA with a lot of room for choice. To be honest, other that the local strawberries, cherries, blackberries and tomatoes I already cherish, I’m not really expecting a huge difference in taste from conventional food. I know that’s the opposite of what you often read, but I’m just not sure that my palate is either sensitive or sophisticated enough to know the difference. I love wine, and know enough to avoid two-buck chuck, but I’m pretty sure the finest vintages would be wasted on me. But I know from previous experience that the CSA will bring me great variety, and force me to keep cooking. As it really is the easiest way to offer direct support to a local farm.
I’m finding my reading and research have been inspiring, rather than discouraging. The take home message is almost always the same – eat more vegetables and fruit, eat local as a first priority, organic as a second and recognize that almost everything in any grocery store is by definition Big Food. And I’m really enjoying my weekly trips to the Ballard Farmer’s Market. Coming home with surprises – sorrel this week – and planning around them is a fun challenge.
The standouts on my reading list so far (I’m giving my library card a good workout) have been Nina Planck‘s Real Food: What to Eat and Why, and Jill Richardson‘s Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. And from Marion Nestle, I’ve absorbed the reality that there is no real watchdog in place for food in this country. As the system stands now, it is the consumer’s responsibility to educate herself about everything she eats.
I’m still not planning to move off grid. And I’m not ready for raw milk; I don’t think pasteurizing is morally wrong. I doubt that the impact of the food choices I make as an individual have a lot of direct impact – but I think being a part of a wider movement towards a sustainable food system does have meaning; and if it achieves critical mass, has the potential to have a positive impact on the environment.
I’ve already had one great surprise; Our poultry and egg CSA pickups started a week ago. The chicken hasn’t had a fair test yet – I used my first chicken for a barbeque party for friends, and my homemade barbeque sauce would make seitan taste good. But the eggs were a revelation. Bright stand up orange yolks, and an amazing creamy flavor. Believe me, if I can taste the difference, you would too.