Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Lost Posts and a bunch of other stuff

I have written some amazing cogent, coherent, down-right excellent posts for this blog. You have never read them. Written in my head, as I drive to and from work, by the time I got to the computer, they were gone like the memory of a dream.

Recently, I did this with a post that tied together an article I read in Mother Jones Magazine, something I heard while listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and something else about marketing to children. Believe me, it was superlative. I was so impressed. Of course, now it's vanished, completely gone. So I will write this post- not the same, but what the heck.

My sisters and I used to play that game, where you listed the people you would most like to have dinner with, and why. Somehow, most of my supper guests were women authors- Alice Walker, Rita Mae Brown, Elizabeth Moon, Sharon McCrumb, Mercedes Lackey . And Barbara Kingsolver. Right now, my top number one choice for dinner would be Barbara Kingsolver.

I've read all of her books, and love them all. In addition, Barbara is leading the life I dream of living- pastoral, bucolic, and it looks like her kids still are young enough to live at home. She has a book coming out in May, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, in which she chronicles a year of local eating.

In the article Seeing Red, in the May-June issue of Mother Jones Magazine, Kingsolver talks about the politics of food and agriculture through the medium of tomatoes. She talks about the growing disconnect between eaters and the producers of the food we eat. She says "When we walked, as a nation, away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry soap commercial."

I've seen that disconnect. When we first moved here to rural PA, and were looking for a house, we rode around the county with the real estate woman. Ant one point she said "I wish the farmers would sell this land fronting the roads so we could develop it. They don't need it anyway." I was sitting in the front seat, and I felt my husband's hand on my shoulder- apparently I was about to fly out of the car in indignation. I remember thinking "Who on earth does she think is going to feed her if the farmers sell the land for new houses?" Sadly, more people here think like the real estate woman than like me, and new houses pop up like mushrooms. Mushrooms, by the way, are among nature's clean-up crew- feasting on the dead and rotting.

Kingsolver goes on to quote Wendell Berry saying "Eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used." And she gives an example of that disconnect through the lens of tomatoes packaged under the name Appalachian Harvest, and marketed to supermarket chains in Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia.

In this example, she tells how collection of approximately 37 farmers in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, working with a nonprofit group called Appalachian Sustainable Development jumped through all the hoops involved in selling produce to chain supermarkets; organic certification, "appropriate" packaging, training. Things were looking good, until midsummer 2005, when they were ready to reap what they had sown, turning the red tomatoes into greenbacks, grocery store buyers backed out. Cheaper organic tomatoes, trucked in from California, went on the grocery store shelves instead of the locally grown. The farmers took a loss, the surplus locally grown tomatoes were donated to the poor, and the supermarkets made money.

Kingsolver says that 81 cents out of every food dollar we spend goes to processors, marketers, transporters, with the remaining 19 cents going to farmers. Corporate farms take most of that, she says, adding "We complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might actually send back more than two dimes per buck to the humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn."

According to the Alabama Farmers Federation, Americans spend about 10.7 percent of their deisposable income on food, compared to the 14.9 percent Australians spend, and the 51 percent spent in India. Like cheap gasoline, we demand cheap food, without thinking of the hidden costs. Perhaps not even realizing there are hidden costs.

Next week Chuck and I are going to be participating in the Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge. This challenge seeks to provide an answer to the complaint that eating local is too expensive for most people.

During this week, we will be eating as much as possible from a "foodshed" defined by a 100 mile radius of our home in South Central Pennsylvania, reporting on the cost of the food. We will be using a budget of $144.00 for the week, with 2 people in our family. We are still under frost here, so much of what we will be eating will come from the things I canned, froze or dehydrated last year. Somethings simply are not grown locally- grain crops come to mind. For those, I have decided I will buy them from locally owned businesses rather than chain grocery stores.

I've always been a big advocate of Voting With My Dollar, or as I read on some website recently, Voting With My Fork. For so many reasons, keeping a supply of fresh, local food available to Americans is very important to me, from food safety issues, to emergency preparedness issues, to simple health reasons. If we continue to demand the cheap food regardless of hidden costs, we may wake up one morning to find we have no local food available. Let me urge you to vote with your dollar, or your fork, as well.
And, if any of you ladies mentioned above would like to drop by for dinner, I usually eat around 7.

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