Unreal Food For The Real World
May 23, 2015 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Why would I, who learned to cook from Culinary Luddites, who grew up in a family that, in Elizabeth David’s words, produced their “own home-cured bacon, ham and sausages . . . churned their own butter, fed their chickens and geese, cherished their fruit trees, skinned and cleaned their own hares” (well, to be honest, not the geese and sausages), not rejoice at the growth of Culinary Luddism? Why would I (or anyone else) want to be thought “an obtuse consumer”? Or admit to preferring unreal food for unreal people? Or to savoring inauthentic cuisine?
The answer is not far to seek: because I am an historian.
A Plea For Culinary Modernism
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (79 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just think, in 200 years a culinary historian will be jamming cows filled with antibiotics through weird processing plants and wrapping them up carefully to recreate the cultural phenomena of McDonald's. There will be some food culture hell bent on fast food, trans fats, and recreating the factory farm experience.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:01 AM on May 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Natural was unreliable. Fresh fish began to stink. Fresh milk soured, eggs went rotten.
Thank the gods that someone is finally willing to take a brave stance against the forces that would rid us of refrigeration technology.
Yet while we fret about pesticides on apples, mercury in tuna, and mad cow disease, we should remember that ingesting food is, and always has been, inherently dangerous.
So is subsisting entirely on a diet of straw men.

There are a few good points strewn amidst the muck, but does anyone really insist that no good advances have been made in food or agriculture in the last three or four centuries? Because that's who Laudan seems to be arguing against here.
posted by Etrigan at 6:03 AM on May 23, 2015 [28 favorites]


^ I see your post and raise you the "paleo" craze.
posted by erlking at 6:05 AM on May 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


South of the Alps, Italian peasants suffered skin eruptions, went mad, and in the worst cases died of pellagra brought on by a diet of maize polenta and water.

This is grossly anachronistic in the context of the article, following as it does a paragraph quoting Galen – maize is an import from the New World, of course, and the reason European consumers of maize suffered from pellagra is that they failed to appreciate the purpose of nixtamalization in improving maize's nutritional content. Pre-contact Mesoamericans had been using nixtamalization for three thousand years.
posted by topynate at 6:06 AM on May 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


I like the author's essential inversion of the narrative of, say, "Inner city child doesn't know carrots are roots grown from the ground, and have skins and leaves", to argue the parallel narrative of "Whole Foods shopper doesn't properly comprehend how organic-carrot-as-capitalist-commodity is a symbolic element of the modern global technological economic apparatus." I think that's the best take-away from the article.
posted by polymodus at 6:07 AM on May 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


Seconding Etrigan. I actually quit reading halfway through when the author got to saying that "but people had to process raw food" and I just thought, well, duh. Yes, some cuts of meat are tough - but that's how you come up with different cooking methods, some of which have lead to super-tasty dishes. Yes, sometimes people had to preserve things before they went bad, but that's how we got pickles.

I lean kind of locavore/artisinal foodwise, but not because of any precious sentiment about preserving native foodways or anything like that - the reason I eat that way is because a super-fresh carrot tastes a fuck of a lot better than something I get in a baggie from a supermarket, and life is too short to eat shitty carrots.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:09 AM on May 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


Culinary Luddites, we may call them, after the English hand workers of the nineteenth century who abhorred the machines that were destroying their traditional way of life.

This is crap history for a historian.
posted by jammy at 6:15 AM on May 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I see your post and raise you the "paleo" craze.

Even the most out-there paleo will still use a refrigerator, drink water that isn't out of a mountain stream, and benefit from breeding programs that their caveman ancestors never dreamt of.

Laudan isn't even arguing against ultrapaleos. She's arguing against people who insist that nothing bad ever happened to the human stomach before Louis Pasteur.
posted by Etrigan at 6:17 AM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I agree with the author's point that we need quality food that is also efficient, but yes much of the article did seem like a straw man. People care about inefficient food because it offers a more humane supply chain, it's healthier, or because they just enjoy baking bread, not because they have idealized the past for the wrong reasons.
posted by ropeladder at 6:20 AM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Culinary Luddites, we may call them, after the English hand workers of the nineteenth century who abhorred the machines that were destroying their traditional way of life.

This is crap history for a historian.


Well, the whole use of the word "Luddite" is a rank misunderstanding of history anyway. It is akin to saying that, were taxi drivers to smash up the cars of Uber drivers, they were "anti-car". A better historical touchstone would be the Swing Riots--where labour-replacing technology really was smashed up by fearful labourers--but few would get the reference.
posted by Thing at 6:24 AM on May 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Laudan is a famous contrarian in the world of food history. She likes to poke at the sacred cows (pun acknowledged). Here, she's writing for a lay audience and compressing and synthesizing quite a bit; in her books and papers, you can get a longer, more traditionally historian-like version of this. I think her scope here is a little too big, because she likes to make waves. But she's not a bad historian.

I don't necessarily agree that "better industrial food" is the best goal, but she is also quite right to question the nostalgic, uncomplicated romanticizing of past foodways. I'm a local food activist for more than a decade, a leader in the Slow Food movement, and have spent the past year working on a long, in-depth project that deals with food history, and I have to say that my research definitely complicated the popular narrative "everything was more wholesome/closer to the source/safer 'back then.'"

Food has never been more accessible, and it is on the whole a lot more regulated and a lot safer, in some ways, than at any time prior to the twentieth century. That doesn't mean it's free of problems. But I'm with her insofar as I will never again say of the food system "We need to get back to better ways of doing things." It's ridiculous to celebrate the proliferation of resource-intensive processed foods that are empty of nutrition, and can't take that seriously, but there are some other ideas worth listening to here. She's not wrong that a lot of food up through the nineteenth century was monotonous, often not at all fresh, and often adulterated and downright dangerous. She's not wrong that hunger and seasonal scarcity were normal, not exceptional. She's not wrong that we invented industrial systems largely because they represented improvements for th majority. And it is sort of amusing to see canning represented as something old-timey and traditional, especially home canning, which was a relatively short-term, middle-class phenomenon of the late nineteenth century that enjoyed a brief revival in the wartime 1940s and again recently, in between those peaks mostly confined to particular rural and hobbyist contexts.

I think we need to focus on building a better food system that takes the best from the past and combines it with the best of what technology, science, and centuries of study afford us. I don't agree with a lot of her acerbic take on things, nor that industrialization and massive scale are promising solutions to the problems of food sourcing that perennially plague humanity, especially urbanized humanity. But I can agree that most people in "the food movement" have got the past wrong.
posted by Miko at 6:31 AM on May 23, 2015 [54 favorites]


I have seen plenty of foodie writing that does idealize the past and in particular that blames the decline of food culture on selfish, selfish women who have the temerity to want to do something with their time other than engage in food production. And I think there is something to be said for acknowledging that people had real reasons for embracing processed and/or imported food. I'm not going to defend instant mac n' cheese or TV dinners, but there's a reason that people of my great-grandparents' generation looked at canned fruit and imported bananas and saw abundance and variety, rather than the decline of traditional foodways.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:35 AM on May 23, 2015 [24 favorites]


Well, the whole use of the word "Luddite" is a rank misunderstanding of history anyway. It is akin to saying that, were taxi drivers to smash up the cars of Uber drivers, they were "anti-car". A better historical touchstone would be the Swing Riots--where labour-replacing technology really was smashed up by fearful labourers--but few would get the reference.

Yes, but to declare the reason for your thesis is: "because I'm an historian" and then lead with a metaphor based upon crap history is, well, crap. I get that some might not get the reference, but the Jacobin is not Buzzfeed. It pretty much made me want to stop reading right there.

But I read the rest. I think she is romanticizing the hell out of the history of the industrialization of food. And moments where she says things like "the foods of Culinary Modernism — egalitarian, available more or less equally to all" it does not convey that she comprehends or wants to acknowledge the vast inequalities that exist at the very heart of contemporary industrialized food production.
posted by jammy at 6:38 AM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


selfish, selfish women who have the temerity to want to do something with their time other than engage in food production.

Amen. I've been working on an idea about this lately. Though I have a lot of good things to say about cooking, and love cooking myself, when I have the time and good food to work with, I think that the food movement and the explosion in culinary interests have both overlooked the fact that cooking is labor. The dominant culture has, for a couple of centuries since the advent of the cult of domesticity, bound up cooking-as-work with cooking-as-nurture, cooking furnished as one component of the emotional labor simply expected of women inhabiting their proper social niche. Recent pro-cooking rhetoric continues these expectations with a more modern sensibility, but it's the same old thing: you should just be doing this because it's the right thing to do, it's responsible to society, it's good for you and your family. And you should enjoy doing it because nothing is more emotionally rewarding to women than nurturing others and doing the right thing. It's all there, from Catherine Beecher to Martha Stewart to whatever this week's popular food blog is.

Cooking also gets bound up with prescriptions for the poor. They should be doing more home cooking because it saves money (and they must be stringently responsible for their money) and it's healthier (and they must maintain perfect health despite profound disadvantages!).

All of this rhetoric really neglects the fact that cooking is labor. It's work. In non-home contexts, it's something people get paid to do. I can't quite imagine people who clean houses or hotel rooms for a living being told to come home and clean their own houses to the same standard, every day, and be expected to find it healthful, enjoyable, and rewarding. Or someone who spends all day working landscaping or farming to be told to come home and get up to their elbows in home landscaping and gardening all day because presumably it's so good for body and soul. Yet that's exactly what the culture tends to say to working-class and poor people - not cooking is a moral failure and a financial drain. You should be adding more (unpaid) labor to your labor. I think this is an important idea but I need to do some more research on labor history and food labor history in particular, and how we came to pretty much define cooking as 'not labor.' The women's movement was pretty successful in redefining other forms of housework as labor, but not so much this. You can refer to the American TIme Use survey to find out that women still take on the bulk of home cooking, along with other labor, in mixed-gender households, without compensation.

Most cooking, for most people, is functional and not inherently joyous. While I was working on this exhausting project - after long days at my more-than-full-time job - I was somewhat surprised to find that my interest in cooking, usually high, had almost totally vanished. I was too tired. I beat myself up about this for a while ("I'm supposed to be the big foodie! What's wrong with me?") before I mentally recategorized cooking as labor and realized that it was too much to expect myself to pull a third shift in a single day. I depended on a lot of quick-fix foods and ate out far too often, but wondered why it is that there are so few sources of good, delicious, healthy, well-made, relatively inexpensive ready-to-eat food in the world, something relatively healthy and tasty that . This is no doubt why the Whole Foods buffet bar is such a massive profit driver for the store - ridiculously expensive pound for pound, but flawlessly convenient and perfect for working people who can afford it - but if you don't have something like that, you don't have many options for decent food to eat at home that you don't have to prepare. There was a brief moment in the late nineteenth century where progressive utopian reformers experimented with take-out and cooperative kitchens as a way to liberate women from the stove. Edward Bellamy, famous for the book Looking Backward, devised one such scheme, and Bellamy Clubs popped up around the nation to promote collective cooking. Melusina Fay Pierce was another person who promoted this idea. But it never took off, and many historians theorize that it is just a hard sell because so incompatible with American ideology of domesticity, that says we eat in nuclear family groups, the woman of the house cooks and loves cooking and views cooking as a form of love, and anything that threatens that system threatens the very fabric of society.

Anyway, yes, as soon as you really dig in to primary stuff in food history, you discover that a lot of our perceptions are very much colored by romance, nostalgia, commercial messages, gender and cultural politics. It's worth interrogating them.
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2015 [123 favorites]


Started reading this yesterday and also couldn't avoid feeling like half of the article is a gross misrepresentation of the majority of "return to basics" food types. Even Michael Pollan, who arguably brought a lot of this stuff to the mainstream consciousness, would not claim that:

"We hover between ridicule and shame when we remember how our mothers and grand­mothers enthusiastically embraced canned and frozen foods."

This is a total misrepresentation. The diatribe against contemporary food isn't generally against canned goods and frozen peas. Its against:

a) Fast-Food, TV Dinners and Ready-Meals. Foods that actually vaguely look like what you would make at home, but generally have a lot more sugar and salt in them.

b) weird pseudo-foods like pop-tarts and twinkies, ... perhaps chicken nuggets. And the "pink slime" that Jamie Oliver speaks against because its basically "meat" with ammonia added.

c) the "nutritionist" approach to food that led people to believe that if you just pop a multi-vitamin everyday it doesn't really matter what you eat.

And the Locavore movement I think is mostly driven by the sense of unheimlich-ness that say the fresh tomatoes in the London supermarket for 99p were grown in South America and somehow arrived here without costing anywhere near what it costs for your extra luggage on an easyjet flight to Spain. ?1?
posted by mary8nne at 7:05 AM on May 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Though I have a lot of good things to say about cooking, and love cooking myself, when I have the time and good food to work with, I think that the food movement and the explosion in culinary interests have both overlooked the fact that cooking is labor.

When you turn this into a book, please send me an email because I will buy five copies.

In my family it was my grandmothers who embraced the industrialized food products -- they had grown up on farms, cooking for large families and seasonal laborers back when farm work meant horses and itinerant labor who had to be housed and fed, and the moment that post-WWII industrial food was available they never looked back. My mother was of the cohort who in the 1960s and 1970s pushed back against that (think Laurel's Kitchen) but even for her, when the last kid moved out of the house she stopped with the labor-intense cooking entirely; I know she has complicated feelings about how all the real labor of that food reclamation fell on women like her, largely to the benefit of the men.

In my wife's family, it was her mother and aunts who turned their backs on the endless domestic labor of the grandmothers' generation. None of them prepare the complicated (and wonderful!) foods every day that their mothers and aunts did, and it was important to them that none of their daughters would have a childhood of kitchen labor like they grew up with.

There are real losses to those changes. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up with a mother who was reclaiming kitchen arts (including homemade bread, food from the garden, etc), and my partner grew up eating the old-school foods made by her grandmother and great-aunts every day. Having those connections to culinary traditions is wonderful, and I'm sure there are health benefits compared to the worst of industrial options. But it came at a huge cost in terms of unpaid, difficult, and devalued women's labor at every step in the process.

For part of the year I work very long hours, and with a fair bit of travel. I would kill for better quick and healthy options at generic small town supermarkets during that time, when menu planning and shopping can feel like a hill too high.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 AM on May 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


And the Locavore movement I think is mostly driven by the sense of unheimlich-ness that say the fresh tomatoes in the London supermarket for 99p were grown in South America and somehow arrived here without costing anywhere near what it costs for your extra luggage on an easyjet flight to Spain.
It may be driven by that, but if you actually read locavore media, there's a ton of stuff about how you can survive a Midwestern winter eating local if you just plan properly. All you need to do is preserve your own fruits and vegetables in the summer, stock your basement root cellar with potatoes and other root vegetables in the autumn, and then in the winter you can grow some stuff in a greenhouse on your property. Easy peasy!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:39 AM on May 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


And I know people who do do that stuff. I think the problem is in extrapolating that as a scalable prescription for the whole society.
posted by Miko at 7:41 AM on May 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, that stuff is awesome if you want to do it, but it is a lot of work, and it's just inaccessible to some people. I live in a 600 square foot city apartment. Anything that involves a basement root cellar or a greenhouse on my property is not going to happen for me. I think there probably needs to be some more differentiating between "this is a great and worthwhile thing to do" and "this is a solution to the current problems with our food system."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


The driving force with this article isn't as much that she's a historian (notice how dodgily she employs historical example, even if her other work is better) but that she's writing for Jacobin and clearly swings marxist in some way. The key political aspect of the article is right at the end - she's basically saying "we need industrial food production to keep food prices low for the proletariat and we need to organize the proletariat who themselves produce industrial food". The rest of it is....well, honestly, it's the same kind of looseness with the facts and reliance on what you know your audience already believes that I find in some of the writing in New Left Review. Over time (and after reading that interview with the Jacobin editor) I've come to believe that it's intentional - that the goal is to produce a persuasive polemic by intentionally being fast and loose with the facts, since the dictatorship of the proletariat is the higher goal.

Honestly, I like her argument at its core - I am very much persuaded by the whole "let's make industrial processes work with us rather than against us" line of reasoning in this particular situation. (Not in the start-up/Uber/Washio situation, obvs.) This essay is similar to a Doug Henwood one I read a long time ago where he was talking about the horrors of working for a small business (getting out of worker safety and healthcare mandates, cranky owners who can do whatever they like, no HR department, etc) and making the argument that (I now realize is straight out of Weber) large organizations can be much more transparent and potentially much fairer than tiny, even though local small business gets idealized by certain parts of the left. That's a very marxist argument - that what we need is big bureaucracy under tight popular control. I'm not sure I agree, but I find this general line of reasoning to be consistent and certainly no less persuasive than the things I tend to believe.
posted by Frowner at 7:50 AM on May 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think there probably needs to be some more differentiating between "this is a great and worthwhile thing to do" and "this is a solution to the current problems with our food system."

And between those and "this is the solution to the current problems with our food system."
posted by Etrigan at 7:51 AM on May 23, 2015


I think the article, while having flaws, does make a reasonable point. Actually having food that's both accessible to people who aren't middle class and up, doesn't take massive amounts of time to prepare, and is feasible to produce on scale is super important.

I love a good home cooked meal, I can food sometimes, I do all sorts of elaborate all day meals, but I can also realise that all those things are ultimately a hobby and a luxury for me; they are not a solution to any global food issue. A lot of localvore, and slow food writing/culture really is based on conspicuous consumption and ignores the reality that large scale industrial production of food allows for the lower classes to eat more than just grains and lentils.
posted by Ferreous at 8:18 AM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


On my budget I could not even buy a month's worth ready made, much less as good I can make from mostly raw materials. I confess to having a cabinet shelf full of imported spices, of buying tofu and soy sauce, of balking at the process of making Tabasco last summer, since their process takes three years. But I spent some time signing farmers and local producers to the Utah's Own project for encouraging local farmers and secondary food producers. The State of Utah officially likes to keep a week and a half of food, inside the statelines.

My grandparents were farmers and moonshiner farmers. They did live relatively well off the land. Though the moonshining side looked pretty skinny in pictures from the thirties. I remember, in fact, I idealize my grandmother's summer soup of corn, tomatoes, okra, onions and veal. I remember her buttermilk, butter churn, her butter press, the soap she made, and the indescribably delicious blackberry cobbler. I canned all last summer, I had people shamelessly ask for bottles of elderberry jam. I still have a lot of hand harvested, in fact free gathered things put by.

Globalization of the food supply does make for abundance. The idea that ethnic foods are a sad myth, umm I don't buy that. One does not mess with beloved ethnic cuisines and come out unscathed. People love traditional comfort foods. I am glad to see moussaka outed for a high fat confabulation. I have put up jars of the good stuff with little fat except for the goat, and olive oil. Only three more left. Even baking my own bread is cheaper than buying the bread I like, by a long shot, including all costs involved. It takes about 15 minutes to make $15 worth of bread.

I think she misses the point of living. Not that hunting / gathering /preparing food is labor, but it is the primal labor. Staying close to the source, and maintaining local agriculture, even farming your windowsill is a good survival and soul survival activity.
posted by Oyéah at 9:18 AM on May 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


And I know people who do do that stuff. I think the problem is in extrapolating that as a scalable prescription for the whole society.

I'd also suggest that the unit energy cost of an annual amateur home canning spree of a single family is probably a good deal higher than that of industrial canning and transport. Firing up your own oven and water and probably running out to the store a few times to get what you need is no match for a factory system that's designed to save money by being as efficient as possible.

On the other hand at home you get to reuse the jars, whereas cans are a pretty absurd proposition in terms of the sunk costs of the can vs the food inside. All hail the rise of tetrapak, which at least doesn't involve mining and smelting.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:19 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm with Miko, but there's this weird zealotry around food and food production and diet shaming and the inherent classism surrounding locavore culture and the whole exhibitionist food blogging Pinterest clan.

I recently read somewhere and am sure it's been posted elsewhere on the Blue that there's a growing philosophical belief that the diet shaming / food culture thing has replaced evangelism in modern secular society, which, ugh, yeah.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:20 AM on May 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why is it that the simplest things in life have become so laden with doubt, worry, and fear? Why? Please tell me. I really want to know. When we were hunter-gatherers, we were not presented with a menu at lunch time. We ate what we could get. An example of this is when Anthony Bourdain visited the Bushmen in Namibia and was treated to wild-pig anus. As far as what we COULD eat, it seems most likely that was something specified in each species genome. What a joy it must be for a giant panda, who eats (or so I'm told) one thing. Wouldn't the panda get bored, or is boredom only something in the realm of humans?
posted by rankfreudlite at 9:23 AM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was frustrated by the article because it frames the thesis as "we need to push for better industrial food, not privilege a false history of natural food", while ignoring that doing the second is how we're trying to accomplish the first in the context of a capitalist economy where voting with your dollars is the most effective thing you can do.

Of course the farmer's market on the weekend provides nothing like what a peasant ate a couple centuries ago, but choosing that privileged form of food consumption, when Safeway offers only CAFO beef, is how you get Whole Foods and Trader Joes and an ongoing Farmers Market where smaller providers can compete on higher quality foods. You're creating a culture where giving a shit about the circumstances of your food isn't heresy.

Besides, the essay glosses over an inevitable outcome of food industrialization, namely how the food advance of today becomes the process of tomorrow where costs are cut and regulators overworked and spreadsheet driven economies of scale lead to outbreaks of diseases unique to the factory operation, like mad cow disease.
posted by fatbird at 9:27 AM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sometimes the morality of food can taste a bit icky.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:35 AM on May 23, 2015


Staying close to the source, and maintaining local agriculture, even farming your windowsill is a good survival and soul survival activity.

And is something that an enormous number of people don't have the time, energy, physical space, or inclination for.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on May 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


+ or money, for that matter
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on May 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Why is it that the simplest things in life have become so laden with doubt, worry, and fear?

I don't know. Some kind of anxiety of abundance? The culinary equivalent of the "quarter life crisis" of privileged youth, who have to decide which fulfilling, lucrative, career is just right for them? Sometimes I see some decaying piece of discarded food on the ground, and I wonder, how long would I have to go without eating, before I would eagerly devour that? A week? three days?
posted by thelonius at 9:40 AM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think these food movements have shown the agri-business, and the packaged, canned, frozen, flown, shipped industries, there will be pushback if they don't provide quality product. So let the foodies, and sophisticated be our collective canaries in the coal mine, with regard to frankenfood sales especially to children and people in lower income brackets who have less dollars and therefore less voice.

Are the food shamers shaming the industry, or are they just being smug?
posted by Oyéah at 9:42 AM on May 23, 2015


The food shamers are shaming the less privileged. Any changes the processed food industry is making are mainly cosmetic and marketing--e.g. 'gluten free' corn chips, slapping 'organic' on everything, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:53 AM on May 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


In the future, home-grown minimally processed organic food will be reproduced down to the last molecule by molecular printers.
posted by bad grammar at 10:24 AM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Laudan isn't even arguing against ultrapaleos. She's arguing against people who insist that nothing bad ever happened to the human stomach before Louis Pasteur.

And yet some people are against pasteurization. Which fits Laudan's argument perfectly: if you can afford to live next to a farm, buy their fresh milk, and have good health insurance in case you do get sick, then raw milk might be a nice luxury, like yogurt. But for most people, pasteurization is what lets them walk into a supermarket and buy entire cheap cartons of safe milk.
posted by Rangi at 10:39 AM on May 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


My grandparents were farmers and moonshiner farmers. They did live relatively well off the land. Though the moonshining side looked pretty skinny in pictures from the thirties. I remember, in fact, I idealize my grandmother's summer soup of corn, tomatoes, okra, onions and veal. I remember her buttermilk, butter churn, her butter press, the soap she made, and the indescribably delicious blackberry cobbler. I canned all last summer, I had people shamelessly ask for bottles of elderberry jam. I still have a lot of hand harvested, in fact free gathered things put by.


All those delicious things your grandmother made were likely predicated on her free labor being dedicated to making them. People today do not often have the option, nor the land access to do these things.

And regarding the gathering, how long did it take you to collect enough elderberries to make that jam? I know from first hand experience that processing elderberries is a very time consuming process. Foraging is great to get some neat foodstuffs, but it's massively time consuming and is not at all a viable option for people to have as much more than a luxury. Treating it as an actual source of sustenance is unrealistic.
posted by Ferreous at 12:16 PM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


And yet some people are against pasteurization

they're like the anti-vaxxers of food
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:31 PM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well, I went out for a drive. Noticing a bush full of berries and a few others, I found a plastic sack in the back of my Westy. In a very pleasant hour I harvested 20 pounds of berries in bunches. Reading on te internets I found the easiest way to get the berries off, is with a wide toothed comb. So I cleaned and cooked elderberries with 3-4 cups of raw cane sugar. They are acidic enough I didn't need to add citric acid. Then I jarred up 20 pints of elderberry jam. Elderberry jam with little fruit, lots of pectin, goes for $5.98 per pint, last time I saw it. I still have three pints, gave away seven. So I would not have purchased $102 dollars worth of elderberry jam, full of antioxidants and totally delicious. The Chef at Deer Valley resort, gathered elderberries and made jam for his cheese plates, he got a story in the local paper, so his labor fronted for free advertising.

The point being I had luxury in my cupboard, still do, I didn't discuss the quince marmalade, jam, apple butter, apple compote, frozen pies, apple butter, crab apple butter, spicy apple chutney, peach compote, and peach butter for pancakes, the pear almond caramel, the goulasch, the goat moussaka, the marinara, the pickles, the pickled beets, the chili verde, yeah, these foods were used, and shared, and I still have plenty.

What I learned is canning is easy and inexpensive. My next thing will be apricot butter, and bottled smoked trout with dill and garlic.

My grandmother had eleven children she worked hard, and my grandfather worked the farm also, the farm was their job. She did a great job of it, taught Sunday chool, and grew African Violets in teacups. She had enormous strength.

My electric bill hovers around $14, in the canning season. I have this system gamed as this is in my blood, and I supported myself as a chef as a young woman.
posted by Oyéah at 12:45 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I find wild berries, I stuff them in my mouth.
posted by rankfreudlite at 1:21 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


voting with your dollars is the most effective thing you can do.

I really question this thinking, and I think it's why almost all locavore efforts end up hitting a ceiling of efficacy. The most effective thing you can do is, without doubt, to use the democratic system to change food policy and regulation. You can do this at every level: municipal, state, national. Policy change has a clearer, more direct, and broader impact. A small change in law can have a much more far-reaching impact than thousands of consumers shifting their buying. Farmers' markets have quadrupled in number over the last two decades. Great! Oddly, the number and consumption of industrial processed foods has also gone only up.

Why is it that the simplest things in life have become so laden with doubt, worry, and fear?

Because we can longer comfortably turn away from or pretend ignorance about the consequences of our choices.

Oyeah, have fun. It's a very satisfying hobby for people with that much leisure time, equipment, and knowhow. I do the same kinds of things you do. And my grandparents did the same kinds of things your grandparents did. But niether your lifestyle or our grandparent's lifestyle is the kind of thing the majority of people can adapt to (even if they wanted to, which they might not). So what we need is to actually be even more imaginative about recreating the food supply in a way that works for many, many more people and impacts resources a lot less.
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'll tell you, the most effective thing that you can do is actually sign up for couponing and discount cards at various grocery stores, then don't buy what's on sale, but instead buy the product that fits your moral imperative...

CPGs (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies aren't concerned with your individual store behavior, but if enough 'Suburban Moms' take the health and nutrition labels seriously and purchase via that, they will drive a surprising amount of change. Your purchase is read by the store, then sold as a blind panel to the CPG to understand what your propensity to buy Tylenol and fried chicken and whether there are cross-promotional options.

CPGs refer to their target shopper as 'she'. They ask questions like 'How long does someone stare at a shelf before making a purchase?' and answer it through a combination of panel, observational, and rigorous studies...

Until enough people are able to make a conscious food decision for health reasons and not for cost reasons, cost will always drive a portion of CPG marketing and innovation; however, the recognition that Healthy Choice as a brand is not as healthy as portion control for 100 calorie packs allows for Oreos and Almonds to still provide some complex and confusing nutritional claim.

100 pounds of feathers weighs just as much as 100 pounds of rock...
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:01 PM on May 23, 2015


For more than ten years, I lived below the poverty level. Sometimes I couldn't pay the rent and was in fear of being convicted. But never ever one single day did I need to serve processed food to my children. I'm lucky. I live in a so-called Asian ghetto. I understand that in food deserts, this is not an option.

We never ate fancy food, and a huge part of our diet was vegetarian, though we did have meat or fish once a week. We ate a lot of pasta, a lot of wok-dishes (curries), and a lot of lentils. We had minestrone very often, as well as potato and leek soup. I baked all the bread. We meal planned. Waste is not acceptable if you are poor.

Party food was almost always Morroccan-style - couscous with a big stew, probably served with salads. For a while, my children refused to eat couscous because we had it too often. But now they have a nostalgic affection for it. We also had other stews with mostly vegetables: potatoes, onions and a bit of sausage. Carrot, onion, potato, tomato and a bit of beef.

Now, I have more options in terms of restaurant food and take out, but not that much.

The thing is, I'm allergic to MSG. I don't get headaches, I get full-blown astma. I can't eat soya, parmigiana cheese, marmite, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. I can't eat any processed food.

However, it turns out I can live a normal contemporary not-luddite life without processed food. It is not at all stressful for me to cook real food. I do not regress into some 50's subordinate role. I cook food which I can eat, without resentment. Today, it is lovely that I can sometimes buy high end take-out food with no MSG. But the suggestion that poor people don't need real food is amazingly insulting.
posted by mumimor at 3:05 PM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because we can longer comfortably turn away from or pretend ignorance about the consequences of our choices.

Well, I for one, believe that we can turn away from our choices. If, for example , I were to select "choice A, nothing prohibits me from, a day later, choosing "choose B."
posted by rankfreudlite at 3:13 PM on May 23, 2015


I do appreciate the accusations that the unprocessed/locavore/traditional food culture is an elitist hobby that's far too labor and time intensive for most people. It can be hard to find the time for all the work involved in doing things properly. That's why I've brought back another tradition- servants!

It's easy really-you just give a corner of your estate to some people of the lower class lifestyle, and in return, they do all the heavy lifting of rustic food preparation- harvesting, picking, plucking, skinning, stirring, etc.. It makes traditional food preparation a breeze!
posted by happyroach at 4:13 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I find wild berries, I stuff them in my mouth.

Let me know how that goes with elderberries for you. They make great jam and pies (and supposedly great wine, though I've never had it), but they aren't much for snacking.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:24 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


the foods of Culinary Modernism

Aerosol cheese covers a multitude of sins.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:33 PM on May 23, 2015


Dip flash, I think that was a jokey snark in response to Oyeah's post about taking a drive and finding elderberries to pick. And even though I actually can myself as well, I'll admit something about Oyeah's post also rubbed me the wrong way - it sounded like it was meant to be this folksy "well all I had to do was put in the tiniest effort and I had this super thing, now gosh it's easy, why can't everyone do this?" However, just as you say, people need to know what elderberries look like, what they are good for, and how to process them. And while I do still maintain that canning things isn't AS hard as some of the naysayers make it out to be, I also agree that there IS a learning curve, and people can't just stroll into their kitchen and do it instinctively. Same with foraging.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 PM on May 23, 2015


This is crap history for a historian.

She is an historian. Apparently she is Cockney, a community not known for its deep knowledge of 'istory.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:35 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "an historian" always bothers me. It's like My Fair Lady never even happened!
posted by gilrain at 4:41 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Canning isn't super hard but on whole it's not making things that are staples. You aren't really going to make things you can live off of. You'll make things that are nice to have.

Hell, canned veggies are generally much less good tasting than flash frozen ones.
posted by Ferreous at 4:43 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even if I knew what elderberries looked like, I am highly skeptical that I would encounter a random elderberry bush on my daily travels. If I did encounter one, I am fairly certain it would belong to someone, and if I took 20 pounds of berries I would be trespassing and stealing. Like I said: I'm all for that kind of thing and totally understand appeal, but it doesn't work at all with my actual life.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:45 PM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I will say this, elderberries are super easy to ID. They're like an umbrella of tiny berries.
posted by Ferreous at 4:48 PM on May 23, 2015


nthing what Miko said:

I think we need to focus on building a better food system that takes the best from the past and combines it with the best of what technology, science, and centuries of study afford us. I don't agree with a lot of her acerbic take on things, nor that industrialization and massive scale are promising solutions to the problems of food sourcing that perennially plague humanity, especially urbanized humanity. But I can agree that most people in "the food movement" have got the past wrong.

Much of the new food movements aren't about bringing good food to the poor. Even if it isn't on purpose, food trends seem to quickly become a new way to punish women for not having the time and luxury to do it all. I just witnessed a facebook fight where a friend declared her children were no longer allowed play dates with another family since "the mother in that family" (emphasis hers) allowed her children to eat too many processed snacks.

I grew up in a farming family, and I enjoy growing balcony herbs and cooking my own food as much as possible-- but I don't always have time, so I'm awfully grateful for the industry part of food production. I have had a mistrust for the back to the land thing since my fellow students (mostly from the rich suburbs) were running around in the 1990s clutching their copies of Wendell Berry and telling me about the idyllic nature of the farming life. (I don't hate WB, by the way, just that moment in history...)
posted by frumiousb at 5:18 PM on May 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


canned veggies are generally much less good tasting than flash frozen ones

This is so true. A chest freezer + a garden or farmer's market, if you are lucky enough to have both, is a great recipe for good tasting veggies with a lot less fuss.
posted by Miko at 5:42 PM on May 23, 2015


if enough 'Suburban Moms' take the health and nutrition labels seriously and purchase via that, they will drive a surprising amount of change

Mmmm, the only change they drive is prompting those large corporations to figure out whatever strategy currently appeals to those people and tweak their marketing to match. There are very few success stories in this broad phenomenon (I tend to allow that the lousy organic program we have nonetheless keeps a lot of more harmful chemicals away from field workers and their children and is probably an incremental improvement for others), and a lot of fuel for further industrial growth. It sounds good and it feels good, which is why food marketers really promote the "vote with your dollar!" message. Dollars don't speak very well. Legal change (food safety regulations, living wages, inspections, changes in farm subsidy policy, changes in school nutrition programs, changes in local land use incentives) are a lot more powerful. Really. Changing farm subsidies, for instance, to disburse more money to "specialty crop" (what we civilians call 'fruits and vegetables') growers would do much, much more to support small-scale, local organic growers than shopping at farmers markets does.
posted by Miko at 5:47 PM on May 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


Interestingly enough, this appears to be a shorter edited version of an article from 14 years ago. Frankly a lot of it IS true. Many casual foodies romanticize the past as if 200 years ago everyone went to farmers markets with bountiful beautiful produce and had tons of leisure time to make artful salads. That this article has been around so long and still describes a real attitude (not a universal one!) is sad.
posted by R343L at 6:12 PM on May 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is all fascinating for me, because for a couple years now I've been obsessed with culinary history. It's a way to connect to history in a tangible, sensory way that really can't be matched, as far as I'm concerned. I read everything I can about ancient food. I bake my own bread from old recipes. I collect old cookbooks and like to look at the LA Public Library's collection of old restaurant menus (Musso and Frank has apparently been overpriced since it opened). I have books about the Roman cookbook Apicius, and I've read articles about early Mesoamerican diets.

The thing is, for a while I was approaching this as a way to kind of replace the food I had been cooking for myself. You know, "dinner tonight will be a Roman patina" or Medieval pottage. The bread I baked was supposed to replace the stuff we'd been buying. It was exhausting. God knows I didn't save any money doing it - I think I barely break even on all the bread baking stuff I have, when you factor in the cost of flour and everything else. It is generally as expensive, if not cheaper, to just buy bread.

And buying bread is what I ended up doing again. This stuff is a hobby, and I had to remember that. What a relief. Making these hobbies into a full-on lifestyle is just a great way to drive yourself into the ground. Expecting other people to do that, "for their own sake," is just cruel.

I've always been rankled by those magazine articles that show you all the stuff you can buy for the cost of a Big Mac. "Look, a chicken breast, some snap peas, and rice! That's a healthy meal!" Just like the environmentalists who say the key to saving money is replacing your lawn with a vegetable garden. Maybe I'm just lazy, but I'm tired after a long day. I don't want to take up farming on top of everything else.
posted by teponaztli at 7:07 PM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Elder is a ditch weed. In its range it grows abundantly along unimproved roadsides and is not hard to find once you learn what it looks like. In addition to jam and wine, you can make delicious fritters with the flowers: dip them in batter and fry them in oil and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Delectable. But also not inexpensive, not a whiz to make, and not appreciably better for you than an airport Jizzy Bun.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:36 PM on May 23, 2015


.....I'm almost afraid to ask whether there is indeed an actual food item sold under the name "Jizzy Bun".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 PM on May 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


The trick is to make it easy for people to do the right thing. We have a long way to go on that. The virtuous choices should be easy, not require a profound change of lifestyle. If you want to garden and cook at home from scratch daily and patronize really local, responsible food sources, great. But the real trick is not how to make that easy for middle-class people with time and choices, but to make food that good and systems that healthy into the social default, or at least a lot easier, for everyone who needs to eat. Which of course is everyone.
posted by Miko at 7:42 PM on May 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought that was a game played at camp
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:43 PM on May 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sorry--it's Louis C.K. for Cinnabon. Louie got one and ate it on the airport train Thursday. It was pretty terrible and it wasn't even the worst thing that happened, which might hint at how painful that show is to watch. The man has a dark worldview. Elder flower fritters are actually more like funnel cake. They are insanely good. It's like eating springtime.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:01 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I only canned once before, I researched the elderberries after I picked them. They interested me because of their supposed anti viral properties, when put up in a tincture. They are hard to clean, but it was fun. I used to write about the local markets and then the fruit farmers and water use. I got to know their stories. I was really poor last summer gathering was a part of my lifestyle. I once took students down to the big produce houses in Salt Lake to show them about the supply chain. I asked the manager why they didn't move much local fruit and produce. He said they would have to take refrigerated trucks up north, and that was too expensive.

Utah has a huge apple crop, in 2007 inexpensive Chinese apples were less than local grown. So buying out on the roadside stands, and markets is a good way to support fresh, delicious produce. A lot of the farmers along the Wasatch turned out to be moonlighting school teachers.

The berries are on public lands. They were largely picked, but I found a couple of out of the way trees, snakes included.
posted by Oyéah at 9:50 PM on May 23, 2015


Fresh meat was rank and tough; fresh milk warm and unmistakably a bodily excretion; fresh fruits (dates and grapes being rare exceptions outside the tropics) were inedibly sour, fresh vegetables bitter. Even today, natural can be a shock when we actually encounter it. When Jacques Pepin offered free-­range chickens to friends, they found “the flesh tough and the flavor too strong,” prompting him to wonder whether they would really like things the way they naturally used to be. Natural was unreliable. Fresh fish began to stink. Fresh milk soured, eggs went rotten.

I call bullshit on that whole paragraph. She can have her canned salmon and potted meat product and spam and moon pies and other things that ants won't touch and worry about salmonella recalls. It is all fun and games until you are spewing from both ends because the processing had a glitch. Processors are never going to care about what you eat as much as you do. Capitalism will prevent it. I don't know what will solve it.

If the vegetables are bitter, amend the soil. If the chicken tastes weird to you, you don't like actual chicken, have never picked one up by the neck and swirled it above your head and should start trapping rabbits because they taste more like processed chicken than real chicken, depending on what they are eating.

This lady should also read 'On Writing Well' and get off her pedantic high horse.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:26 PM on May 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


People who say this is a strawman were never asked to read the top 10 food blogs and saw how many of them were about 'raw', 'non-toxic', 'pure', etc food. Or hung out with foodies or hippies. Or passed 5 health food stores on their walk home, or counted how many foods in the supermarket boast of being 'organic' or 'all-natural'. Or ate at a vegan, donation-only restaurant today and got hungry an hour later.
That never made sense to me. Nature's end goal is dirt and death. Humankind has always improved on it. When I'm broke, a $2 burger is a tasty, calorie-filled option. And resistance to this truth leads to things like shaming people who do need fast food, or trying to ban GMOs or processed foods that could feed more people more effiently. It's all a bunch of food fads and diet religions.

Though I'm surprised the article doesn't mention molecular gastronomy.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:11 AM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


The thing is, we already do have better industrial foods, and are improving them all the time. Chains like Whole Foods could not exist without modern production methods and supply chains. Of course the downside is that doing these things better can be expensive, but apparently Whole Foods is tackling that as well

And it may make me a Luddite, but I have never tasted supermarket strawberries as good as the one sold at the stand by my house and grown at a farm a little further down the road. You simply can't scale food production up to industrial levels without some compromises. I still enjoy supermarket strawberries in the middle of winter, but those local ones I get every spring bring a little extra happiness to my life.
posted by TedW at 4:48 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Canning isn't difficult once you learn the basics.

Canning things as part of staple, every day production takes oodles of time though. My Mom makes and cans things like tomatoes and basic tomato sauce and it takes days to produce enough for more every day use rather then just a treat now and then. A jar of jam lasts because you only use a little at the time. Cans of tomatoes and other veggies are immediately used.

I did some figuring a few years back and I would have to spend 3-5 whole days to can enough tomato based products to have enough to last six months.

Tomatoes are dead easy to can and pretty safe because of the high acid content. Labor time wise it takes a lot to get a decent amount for regular use. Mom does it because it's yummy and she's retired.
posted by Jalliah at 6:30 AM on May 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


About the taste of things. My aunt was talking to me about working a ranch in Ventura, California, back in the day. They had to fence off the avocado trees, because the chickens would get in there and peck at the ground fall avocados that had gone rancid. Then the chicken eggs would taste like rancid avocado oil. I had never heard about this. What is in feed influences taste. I once had the luck to taste fresh moose meat from north in Alaska, it tasted of the service berries, which must have been most of its diet.

Hamburgers from a place south of towm, a local concern, taste like feed lot beef, or that the beef was raised on bad sileage, while up in Brigham City, a buffalo, or hamburger from the Maddox family's big burger stand is sublime. They raise the meat for the stand, grazing their herds nearby. I worry about the concerns who supply the government with school lunch meat, they picked up a big ticket a couple of years back for their unsafe slaughtering practices. Maybe this author can start there, rather than attacking happy home gardeners, artisanal types, local farmers and markets, and the joy people take in their culture based cuisine myths.
posted by Oyéah at 8:16 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


This doesn't read as a straw man argument to me, though perhaps that says more about the people I hang out with than popular belief. And, pointing out just how recent and global most "traditional" foods are is a worthwhile thing.

On the other hand, the author says things like:
Tequila? Promoted as the national drink of Mexico during the 1930s by the Mexican film industry.
While not untrue, distilled agave liquor has been a big thing in Mexico for hundreds of years, and fermented agave for a few thousand. When reaching for instances of recent origin "traditional" foods, this is a rather forced example.
posted by eotvos at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


And it may make me a Luddite, but I have never tasted supermarket strawberries as good as the one sold at the stand by my house and grown at a farm a little further down the road. You simply can't scale food production up to industrial levels without some compromises.

I agree with you there. She's more right about conditions in the past than I think she is about the best place to go from here.

Oyeah, you aren't the first person ever to write such paeans to local food. If you search my history you'll find me saying many of the same things, and I espouse a similar lifestyle. I've been in food activism for well over ten years now, so the view I'm coming from now takes in your view of the unquestionable goodness of well-raised, fresh local food as we know it today, but also complicates it in order to ask why it is not more widespread (leaving aside a moralist's "well, just do it, it's not that hard" formulation), and considers how it might be possible to expand the best aspects of your food life to include the majority of people who at this point cannot enjoy it. I was once a complete evangelist, but I no longer feel ethically all right with not acknowledging these economic and systemic factors, and once I started untangling food history for my recent project I found that we are generally very poorly informed and romantic about what the food supply used to look like (and how many people actually had access to its best). What I keep going back to is the question: how can we make food that good much closer to being everybody's lifestyle rather than just the privileged few who can line up income, work, geography, and leisure time to pursue their interest in this?

I also ask myself whether I accept that people should make food sourcing and cooking their hobby if they don't want to. It's entirely true that if you do love that stuff, and want to spend time foraging for berries and browsing farmstands and putting up produce, it's economical and really delicious and satisfying in a hundred ways industrial food is not. But it takes a fair amount of time. If someone would rather spend their off time playing music, writing, stamp collecting, volunteering, etc., should I really be able to demand that they invest their time here? Instead, I'd like them to be able to have choices that allow them access to food that good, but without having to put a burden on them of organizing their life around food sourcing and preparation. That seems to me something we should be able to figure out, and not just for the rich or the rich in time.
posted by Miko at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Utah is not grown out of being an agrarian society. These farms, markets, orchards and big truck farms are ongoing. The vegetables are cheap and available. This state seems to have a mindset that hovers between the nieteenth and twenty first centuries, some serious inequalities exist, and some persistent earth based good sense.

I did not consciously comment that anyone should change their ways to my way. I gathered a lot of stuff that was there because it served me to do so. I have taught cooking and health, but I was just commenting on my reality vs the article. I buy produce at a local Mexican market, I get so much more for my money there. This chain brings up a lot of Mexican produce, and since I was once a produce buyer, I notice a lot of seconds, of items that need to sell. I get the sense the people shopping there are going to cook, because I see a lot more ingredients for cooking, than prepared food. There is a restaurant outlet attached to the store with reasonably priced meals. I don't see a lot of what looks like wealthy people shopping.

In Utah people can get power and gas subsidies, cooking is common here, across the income spectrum. Food is abundant here and reasonably priced. Women's wages are low.

The idea that cooking is unpaid labor kind of flies in the face of fledged / unfledged sort of thinking. I never complain about cooking for myself, to myself, and if I can feed someone else I do. In fact I feed a neighbor of mine a meal a day and make sure her other little meals are stocked and easy to prepare. I think knowing how to prepare food, healthful food, delicious food should be a junior and high school requirement, along with a nutrtion class. Sitting down to meal either alone or with those you share with, is really important. Knowing how to nourish and sustain one's self is basic to being fledged.

The nature of our society makes living difficult if you aren't a saleable item, or if you aren't willing to worship someone else's ambitions. In our homes if we can get a place to call home, we can hunker dowm, or whatever we do in the face of this society / monster we have made, and take a meal together. The food is here in this nation.

There are an alarming number of homeless youth who definitely have a hard time cooking, children of the meth culture are in trouble before they are even born. Volunteering at a food pantry or food bank is one way to help out. Francis Moore Lappé recently wrote about a city of 2.2 million in Brazil, who decided food is a basic human right, so everyone can eat there in public eating facilities.

In this country I worry about the industrial and potential industrial pollution of our grain lands. Go back to Maslow, what do we really need?
posted by Oyéah at 2:16 PM on May 24, 2015


The idea that cooking is unpaid labor kind of flies in the face of fledged / unfledged sort of thinking.

I have no idea what this means. Can you explain?

Utah is not grown out of being an agrarian society. These farms, markets, orchards and big truck farms are ongoing. The vegetables are cheap and available.

Utah is also diverting 23% of the Colorado River's flow to support its "ongoing" agriculture. Utah's agricultural mix is concerning - intensive dairying? Subsidy corn, dependent on irrigation? At the systems level, the picture is more challenging.
posted by Miko at 7:06 PM on May 24, 2015


"Utah farmers and ranchers currently do not produce enough food overall and in most individual sectors to feed our population. "

"Despite the apparent use of sustainable practices by farmers, the majority stated that economic factors, availability of information, and Federal farm programs were primary constraints limiting adoption of sustainable practices. Without a greater effort by Cooperative Extension, sustainable agriculture practices may not be adopted by Utah farmers and ranchers. "

"By 2050, Utah’s population will nearly double."

These are the kinds of systemic issues that no amount of home preserving, cooking, and farmer's market shopping is going to solve. They're the kinds of issues that require not moralizing, but analysis and democratic action. They are the kinds of issues that your experience today has little bearing on, because they require an understanding of changes in development, land use, and resource trends.

This is the kind of thing I'm saying. I agree we need to teach people to cook (and if you had read my link in the last comment I made, you'd know all about what I think about that), but I don't delude myself that it is a long-term solution to a stable, healthy, sustainable, resilient, responsible food supply that can reach people at all economic levels.

The essential problem, frankly, is that the work that actually needs to be done is so boring, so procedural and less-fun and aesthetic and rewarding than berry-picking, farmer's market shopping and cooking is, that a lot of people have no taste for it and don't even know where to begin. Yet, make no mistake, it's at this systemic, regional agency and bureau level, and also at the local, regional, and national legisltation and policy level, that real change happens. If citizens aren't in it driving the priorities, guess who is?
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on May 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Colorado gets a quarter, Utah gets a quarter, Arizona gets a quarter, and California gets some, Nevada gets some out of Hoover dam. But Utah gives it the Green River, and the Virgin River, and the San Juan River. Utah also contributes water from the La. Salle Range, and the Blue Mountains.

Utah is on a mission, they are out of water. They will dry out the Great Salt Lake, in their business and expansion plans. The church gets the Bear River on some thirty year timetable. Utah is really good with water management. They are not magicians. This obtuse theocracy will self destruct, it is a matter of prophecy.

It is really difficult to watch the Utah show, I can't even read the local paper anymore. They are puttinews g houses on farmland, and I can't see how plowing up rainforest to feed those unwilling to farm locally, is a good solution.

But all the talk about the market, being an affluent affectation, the agora has been with us before it was the agora. I remember the Market Platz in Wiesbaden, and the Market Kirche. People buy at markets, and have done so all through our history.
posted by Oyéah at 9:42 PM on May 24, 2015


But all the talk about the market, being an affluent affectation, the agora has been with us before it was the agora. I remember the Market Platz in Wiesbaden, and the Market Kirche. People buy at markets, and have done so all through our history.

What does that have to do with agriculture policy? Which is what I think you think you're responding to?
posted by jaguar at 10:03 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


People buy at markets, and have done so all through our history.

That's such an enormous generalization that I don't understand what you think it proves.

Utah is a long way from providing a sustainable, affordable, steady food supply for its own population right now, let alone the fact that the population is also on a trajectory to double in the next three decades. That's what I'm talking about. You could spend your entire income buying at farmer's markets - or supermarkets, for that matter - but how would you expect that to translate into long-term food security for Utah? How, exactly, do you see that mechanism working?

And the water deficit (projected to grow as well) is only a piece of the puzzle. Other considerations:

"1 in 7 Utah households struggle to afford food 5.2 percent were considered to have "very low food security." That means they experience deeper hunger, cut back or skip meals on a frequent basis, which includes adults and children."

USDA: "Utah Worst at Food Security," in part because of cultural factors that discourage people from applying for the benefits they are entitled to.

Intensive dairying and feedlot operating results in agricultural runoff of waste products and fertilizer that is also polluting the water supply.

Solutions? Shopping is a fine thing to do, but it is not capable of fixing these larger-scale issues in which resources, policy, government agency and authority areas, and long-term master planning intersect. Those are the systems which shape what's possible. It's at that level that most productive change is made.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


But all the talk about the market, being an affluent affectation, the agora has been with us before it was the agora. I remember the Market Platz in Wiesbaden, and the Market Kirche. People buy at markets, and have done so all through our history.

People were buying things at Market Kirche because the supermarket didn't exist yet and their only other option was to grow it themselves. Also, the markets of history weren't expected to feed anywhere near the number of people we have on theplanet today, and a lot of people still went hungry.

Listen, I hear you on the advantages of shopping at a farmers' stall and such, but you really need to understand that there's a difference between shopping habits on an individual scale and food availability on a national scale. I have indeed flogged on about market shopping myself, but I also know it's not an option that is anywhere near universal, at least not for the population of the planet that we have now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Utah seems part and parcel of the hubris of trying to build large scale human developments in deserts. It's not like it's a climate that is naturally amenable to food growth.
posted by Ferreous at 8:52 AM on May 25, 2015


George_Spiggott: "All hail the rise of tetrapak, which at least doesn't involve mining and smelting."

Sorry to break it to you, but tetrapaks are made with aluminum in them and are notoriously complicated to recycle.
posted by WaylandSmith at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


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