John William Waterhouse, The Crystal Ball, 1902
Being a polemicist is hard work, I will have you know. It’s so much easier to post a cute pic of one of my chickens.
If I had a crystal ball, this might be what I would see for the food future in this country. (Please file this in the “if wishes were horses” category.)
If health care became nationalized, it would be in the government’s long-term financial interest to promote healthful food. A country of people eating good food (and also exercising regularly and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol) has a better chance of having less costly chronic diseases like Type II diabetes. In other words, the government might look at the financial calculus of its subsidy system of things like soya and corn and perhaps, maybe, help smaller farmers and better uses of land. And then of course people would need to be educated regarding what constitutes healthful food, and the making thereof, so nutrition and home economics classes would again become standard curricula in the public schools. (Oh, and recess, too.)
But I don’t have a crystal ball. Because we are a nation of consumers, companies are always pursuing the cheapest (excuse me, “most cost-effective”) way of doing things. They’re also hep to following trends: thus, even Y’All-Mart is selling organic produce and meat/dairy. And even tomatoes can be trendy, as we have seen. And the government is only going to do the will of its people: we get what we deserve, especially considering how few people actually exercise their right to vote.
My friend posed the food issue (specifically, the organic food issue) in a socioeconomic light by challenging me to come up with a budget for a fully-employed family of five living at/below the poverty level. Regarding the lower class, yes, there’s a certain amount of paternalism that we, and our government, usually adopt towards people’s poor food choices, especially when children are involved. There is no easy answer here.
But my argument is that our country’s poor food (production, selection, availability, subsidies, etc.) is NOT a class issue. It’s a national issue, and it affects Paris Hilton as much as it does Reagan’s welfare queens. It’s also a cultural one, and culture, as we know, is exportable: thus, one finds Starbucks in the Forbidden City, McDonald’s in North Korea. So we’re exporting our bad food choices, and others are embracing them, because somehow being American is “cool.”
I am encouraged by the small instances of pushback, the little steps others have made, like the French farmer who bulldozed a McDonald’s and the great work Carlo Petrini and his friends have done with Slow Food. In particular, the idea of terroir is probably the only one I feel will probably stick in this country of stripmalls: the idea that one’s special place on the globe can produce, and has a tradition of producing, a great food commodity. (We are a nation of consumers, after all.) Thus, Washington apples, Michigan cherries, Minnesota wild rice, Texas grapefruit: isn’t that as patriotic as seeing your local highschool team’s photo on the wall of your local Applebee’s? But then maybe I am naive to think that “place” is something one can still feel strongly about, especially with the highly mobile nature of the average American family.
I am also encouraged by things like Eat Local challenges. In fact, I am most encouraged by the internet in general, and blogging in particular. (You have found me, haven’t you, and I certainly have had much to learn by all that you have had to say, whether it’s here or on your own respective blogs.) This is a conversation we are having, and hopefully, it’s a conversation we will continue to have, whether it’s at our own dinnertables, at our kids’ schools or homeschool groups, and hopefully, with our own elected representatives. We can vote with our pocketbooks, too. In fact, it’s our money that seems to speak even louder than our votes. SO if there’s something that chaps YOUR hide regarding our food, make sure you get out and shout out. Do something!
Yes, we have to vote with our money, guiding the ‘invisible hand of the free market’ in a better direction. Government won’t ever make any changes until business decides that it is advantageous. Witness the turnaround on global warming only after companies like GE and BP started preparing for a climate changed future. So it is up to us elitist insensitive types to push the envelope and slowly starve BigAg by eating local, growing our own, making responsible choices, and doing everything in our power to educate others. I think these ideas are gaining in strength. At least it seems that I’m seeing more about them in the traditional media.
And regarding the idea of ‘place’….that’s another topic that needs to be addressed in this country. The concept of place is fading as our country is homogenized by chain restaurants and big box stores. This might save fuel though, as nobody will have to travel anymore when every single town in America looks the same. Just kidding. So when you choose the local restaurant that serves local food over the chain place, you are voting twice.