Friday, November 25, 2011

Food for Thought

What better time than the major “food” holiday in the U.S. to visit the growing movement called Slow Food.  It is a worldwide organization of “foodies” interested in the fine food experience.  Do not expect an array of cookbooks and restaurant reviews from Slow Food.  This group aspires to return to the local farm for fresh, naturally grown produce.  Slow Foodies look for vine-ripened, field-ready produce that is free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers (as if the plants can tell the difference at the molecular level).

What makes it a movement  -  rather than a simple past time or hobby  -  is the tone of anti-fast food chain, anti-franchise restaurant and even anti-large scale farming.  Slow foodies appear to be on an economic mission to bring back the small, truck farm that sells its produce locally. 

Slow Food International boasts over 100,000 members in 1,300 local chapters worldwide, as well as a network of 2,000 food communities which the group claims practice small-scale and sustainable food production.  National “branches” are located in eight countries including one in the United States.

It is a fine concept  -  fresh food, grown in a way that ensures highest food value and richest taste.  I grew up in such an environment.  My mother had a large, organic garden on our ranch and we rarely bought vegetables in the store.  We ate fresh vegetables and fruit in the summer and home canned versions in the winter.  She often sold tomatoes  -  her bumber crop  -  to the stores in town.  She also sold eggs and cream.  Unfortunately, the proceeds from these sales were not much more than pocket change for my mother.  She did it nonetheless just to make certain that the excess food did not go to waste. 

The step-up is critical from selling excess crops to producing enough profit to support the farmer and his/her dependents. Getting adequate compensation for farmers involves boosting yield from a finite land area, often through improved seeds, automated cultivation techniques, pest control and fertilizer  -  all of which are on Slow Food’s hit list of objectionable farming practices. 

No one wants to eat pesticide laced lettuce or half-ripe tomatoes.  Yet in a world where hunger remains a reality, there is a certain arrogance on display in campaigning against yield enhancing farming methods.  If the entire world demanded organically grown, field ripened grains and vegetables we might not be able to produce enough food for everyone without putting the entire planet to the plow.  Farmers may also have trouble bringing a successful crop to market.  That means the farmer's family goes without clothing and shoes, education, heat, etc. 

Should some be privileged to eat the best foods grown for taste even if that means inefficient use of the land and perhaps a bit of hunger among those not wealthy enough to afford “slow food?”

The Slow Food concept is appealing  -  at least from a gastronomical standpoint.  However, to sustain all humans and animals we simply must seek efficiency in the cultivation of arable land.  That may mean automation, selling beyond the local community, seed development and chemical fertilizers among other practices.  It almost assuredly means higher food prices.

Just a bit of food for thought.

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