17 October 2007

Good Food

As you may learn from my profile, I am a student of journalism and of French, the former for which I am beginning this blog. Something, however, that you may not be able to glean from the concise bio is the question that has been plaguing me ever since I returned from France.

Why is it so hard to find good food? I suppose I must here define ‘good food.’

Back in Seattle after 6 months abroad in France is daunting in and of itself for many reasons. One of these is the isolation experienced as a result of living inner city. Even though green space is but few-minutes ride away, there is a palpable lack of the natural. I wasn’t expecting to find an equivalent to from-the-hill-over-there fresh yogurt as in Grenoble, but perhaps from-the-island-over-there eggs would suffice. Though these products do exist in the city, one feels somewhat spoiled to be able to partake in their freshness (and price). There in lies the absurdity. Where, in France, this kind of direct freshness is taken for granted, in the U.S. it is a luxury. Instead, imports from lands as far away as China are taken as quotidian (and standard), while those products from within a radius of fifty miles become luxurious.

One of the advantages of being a student is the opportunity to hear interesting people talk about what they believe in and stand for in an effort to pass on some knowledge to the forthcoming generation. One such woman Carrie Dann, a Shoshone Indian, spoke on campus last week. Now close to 80 years old, Carrie is still very active in her dedication to what she believes is right. These principles extend from treatment of the earth to treatment of the human population. Among Carrie’s many stories, there was one concept in particular that stood out: her culture’s relationship to food.

With voice unwavering, Carrie explained the relationship with food, extending from her deep connection with the earth in general, a concept ingrained in her consciousness since childhood. She remembered one instance in particular, where her mother stood over the stove, preparing the evening meal. Carrie knew that for their family, prayer didn’t come before the meal or after the meal, but remained a constant presence during the preparation of the meal. There existed no concept of “pure” cooking as it does for some people. Clean the vegetables, do not taste the sauce for fear of contaminating the rest of your family, etc. Their food was handled and tasted and appreciated for its effects on the body. She knew that this animal or vegetable had given its life to sustain hers. For Carrie, the greatest sin – the only sin – is to throw food away.

Public consciousness is slowly beginning to catch on to the weird, American, super-market notion of hunting and gathering. The word “organic” has become (for some of us) part of our everyday vocabulary. “Sustainable” and “beyond-organic” are not far behind. Though these words are now found on both large and small scale in most food-selling locales, are the concepts are as widely understood and applied? And if so, then why are more people not reacting to the truths that lie behind some of the products waiting patiently for consumers on the shelves of our grocery stores?

In an effort to better understand the process of farm to table, it is necessary to start from the source: the farm. So, within the next several weeks, I will try to visit at least one “beyond-organic” farm in order to better understand what it means to dedicate ones life to this concept of “the perfect meal,” as Michael Pollan so simply and elegantly states it in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Still, what is ‘good food’? I’m afraid the answer is rather idealistic in today’s terms. Vegetables that haven’t been doused with chemical to produce one type of crop en mass; soil that isn’t peppered with unidentified, chemical products to entice plants into air polluted by too many cars and too many starving bodies; and the farmers, who still take some joy in creating life for life at sunrise and sunset. This list could be much longer, but you get the idea. Now for finding a nearby farm that fits a few of these conditions…

Here are links to some websites that are particularly interesting, inspiring and pertinent. Take a look at what others are doing about our dilemma.

Foodie Farm Girl
Slow Food
Chez Panisse Foundation
Eat The Seasons

The upcoming farm bill is also an imperative debate. Any thoughts on how the outcome of this proposal will affect the current food landscape in regard to how America eats? Here is one idea.

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