Monday, November 17, 2008

Up with food, the personal and the political

So remember how I went to culinary school? Are you still waiting for me to make waves with my fabulous cooking career? Yeah, me too. I'm feeling better about that lately after comparing notes with fellow Bauman alums and concluding that not a single one of us has achieved world domination, and have mostly plum gone back to doing what we were doing before. Shiloh and I spent some time tonight commiserating over post-hippie-school depression and general lack-of-life-directionness. Fortunately she's decided to escape the hellhole of LA and we have concocted all kinds of reaffirming plans for business parternship when she hits the bay area. In other not-working-retail news, I'm back on the warpath of education job applications. Also, I'm just going to suck it up and get a California teaching cert. Or at least the bootleg adult ed version. I'm announcing it and everything so that I have to go through with it. (Not a guarantee.)

At least some other people are a bit more coherent and active than I am at moving this food revolution along. I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's open letter to Obama, and YOWZA. He does a brilliant job of articulating the intimacy of food policy with national security and energy policy and healthcare and wrapping it up in a new mantra of moving back from oil-based agriculture to sun-based. Best of all he says loud and clear that this is no mere liberal agenda. A) Really, we don't have much choice at this point. The era of cheap oil is over. B) He calls local food movements a truly conservative cause and draws on the spirit of our agrarian heritage and civic pride.

The article is lengthy, so if you've read Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, or if you're at all familiar with the arguments about reclaiming the food system, you could give it a good skim. The big difference here is that he's literally advising the president on agricultural policy, rather than the average consumer on what to eat for dinner. (And being heard. Obama has read and discussed it.) The new and fun stuff shows up at the end, where he starts giving specific advice on cooking and gardening at the white house.

Excuse me as I excerpt excessively:

To change our children’s food culture, we’ll need to plant gardens in every primary school, build fully equipped kitchens, train a new generation of lunchroom ladies (and gentlemen) who can once again cook and teach cooking to children. We should introduce a School Lunch Corps program that forgives federal student loans to culinary-school graduates in exchange for two years of service in the public-school lunch program. And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.

Hell yeah! Sign me up.

You’re probably thinking that growing and eating organic food in the White House carries a certain political risk. It is true you might want to plant iceberg lettuce rather than arugula, at least to start. (Or simply call arugula by its proper American name, as generations of Midwesterners have done: “rocket.”) But it should not be difficult to deflect the charge of elitism sometimes leveled at the sustainable-food movement. Reforming the food system is not inherently a right-or-left issue: for every Whole Foods shopper with roots in the counterculture you can find a family of evangelicals intent on taking control of its family dinner and diet back from the fast-food industry — the culinary equivalent of home schooling. You should support hunting as a particularly sustainable way to eat meat — meat grown without any fossil fuels whatsoever. There is also a strong libertarian component to the sun-food agenda, which seeks to free small producers from the burden of government regulation in order to stoke rural innovation. And what is a higher “family value,” after all, than making time to sit down every night to a shared meal?

... Your sun-food agenda promises to win support across the aisle. It builds on America’s agrarian past, but turns it toward a more sustainable, sophisticated future. It honors the work of American farmers and enlists them in three of the 21st century’s most urgent errands: to move into the post-oil era, to improve the health of the American people and to mitigate climate change. Indeed, it enlists all of us in this great cause by turning food consumers into part-time producers, reconnecting the American people with the American land and demonstrating that we need not choose between the welfare of our families and the health of the environment — that eating less oil and more sunlight will redound to the benefit of both.


  1. Just ran across a couple of links related to this topic:
    The Eat Well Guide, which gives you listings of local sources of sustainable and beyond organic food resources:

    And Slow Food USA, which I haven't had any chance to explore yet so I don't know if it's any good:

  2. Thanks for the links!

    I used to be a member of Slow Food. It's a very cool organization that does a lot to support traditional food and sustainable ag around the world, though it's heavily foodie/bourgeois. There was a ton of hoopla recently over the Slow Food Nation event here in San Fran, with Alice Waters presiding.

    A couple of the blogs I follow to keep track of everything going on in the food movement these days:
    Chews Wise (who actually just linked to the Eat Well Guide's Thankgsiving Challenge!)

  3. Thank you for the links!

    Pollan's Letter to the Farmer in Chief finally got me off my duff to read Omnivore's Dilemma and I'm finding it remarkably perspective-changing. I've been circling around a lot of these ideas for some time but hadn't really taken the plunge till now.

    By the way, I was at an East Texas party over the weekend where bourbon pecan pie was served and told them the best pecan pie I'd had in ages was made by a "Yankee" and they were appropriately skeptical. I didn't insult them by mentioning that your pie was better than theirs!

  4. Ah, but you're going to have to eat your words! If only I could take credit for the pecan pie. Truthfully it belongs to Jessica, her grandmother's recipe, and the 100% Austin pecans from her tree. I just made the apple pie :)

  5. and developed the recipe for the mousse cake, no?

  6. I'm not going to let them know that I was wrong--does 'em good to have to acknowledge occasionally that good things can from up North. I'll just extrapolate from the skills I know you to possess to the fact that you could make such a pie if you really wanted to and so by the strange logic that leads to Truthiness, you have made such a pie. Though kudos to Jessica for a great pie.

  7. I just (last week) got Omnivore's Dilemma unabridged on CD from the library since I can't seem to make it through an actual book these days and have been wanting to read his stuff for ages.

  8. So rocket=arugula! Every time I'm in England I encounter it, but had no idea. It's especially popular in sandwiches on British Airways. Tasty.

    I heard Pollan on NPR a couple of times leading up to the election--Fresh Air etc. I hope his message gets some real traction. And regarding school food, it makes me think of Jamie Oliver's crusade to get "Turkey Twizzlers" and similar crap out of school dinners in England. I think he had some real success.


  9. 'But it should not be difficult to deflect the charge of elitism sometimes leveled at the sustainable-food movement.' Does anybody else think the elitism charge is leveled because the sustainable-food movement IS being elitist?!

    In my area, you even have to separate organic from free-trade concepts because people are ready for the latter, but not the former. Organic as a practice is great; organic as a viable food option means 1)eating by yourself or with your nuclear family, or 2)boutique eating (I just made that word up).

    Sorry, I hate that I'm sounding negative. And I don't even research the organic practices that ARE working here. I guess we have to start small. And keep our eyes open.