Thursday, January 08, 2009

The omnivore's dilemma -- 2

The new dietary, world-saving mantra is "Eat local." This, for example, is the theme of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a good read that -- if nothing else -- makes one think about what goes in the mouth. As much as possible eat fresh food from nearby sources, preferably produced and distributed organically, Mr. Pollan advises.

Easier said than done. Give me a big Exumian cabbage, some Exumian onions, peppers and tomatoes, and I could eat happily for a week. But one does not live on veggies alone. And the sources of local food are fast disappearing as the island is sucked into the global vortex of industrially produced and distributed food.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan visits Gene Kahn, who started out in the 70s as a countercultural farmer in Washington State, producing and selling organic food to local markets. His New Cascadian Survival and Reclamation Project eventually turned into the large and successful Cascadia Farms, and was gobbled up by the industrial food giant General Mills, with Kahn as a wealthy VP. Organic farmer to agribusinessman.

"Everything eventually morphs into the way the world is," says Kahn by way of explanation.

A sad thought, but one with the irresistible force of truth.

Cabbages and onions grown in sandy soil with a watering can and a machete stand little chance against the global food industry. Nor is it fair to expect Exumians to forego the variety of foods and ease of acquisition that those of us in the megasupermarket culture enjoy. And how, pray, to feed 7 billion people without the food science and technology that is both the blessing and the bane of the contemporary world?

I will leave the omnivore's dilemma to wiser heads than mine, and for as long as I can stick with my big sandy heads of Exumian cabbage. I know exactly where they came from and how they were grown, because I can walk through the fields and see the farmer bent over the ground plying his or her machete. But I know little or nothing about the big block of strangely-colored cheddar cheese and processed turkey "bacon" that I buy at our market to go with the cabbage -- except that the turkey may have suffered less than the smarter (and tastier) pig. Oh dear.

"Everything eventually morphs into the way the world is," says Mr. Kahn. The best we can hope for, I assume, is one by one to nudge the world in whatever direction we want it to go.