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Slow Food Nation

Alice Waters, The Nation
It turns out that Jean Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin was right in 1825 when he wrote in his magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, that “the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed.” If you think this aphorism exaggerates the importance of food, consider that today almost 4 billion people worldwide depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Food is destiny, all right; every decision we make about food has personal and global repercussions. By now it is generally conceded that the food we eat could actually be making us sick, but we still haven’t acknowledged the full consequences–environmental, political, cultural, social and ethical–of our national diet.

These consequences include soil depletion, water and air pollution, the loss of family farms and rural communities, and even global warming.

…The contributors to this forum [following article] have been asked to name just one thing that could be done to fix the food system. What they propose are solutions that arise out of what I think of as “slow food values,” which run counter to the assumptions of fast-food marketing. To me, these are the values of the family meal, which teaches us, among other things, that the pleasures of the table are a social as well as a private good. At the table we learn moderation, conversation, tolerance, generosity and conviviality; these are civic virtues. The pleasures of the table also beget responsibilities–to one another, to the animals we eat, to the land and to the people who work it. It follows that food that is healthy in every way will cost us more, in time and money, than we pay now. But when we have learned what the real costs of food are, and relearned the real rewards of eating, we will have laid a foundation for not just a healthier food system but a healthier twenty-first-century democracy.

Alice Waters is the founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant and director of the Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley, California.
(posted 24 Aug 2006, Sept 11 issue)

One Thing to Do About Food: A Forum

Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Troy Duster, Elizabeth Ransom, Winona LaDuke, Peter Singer, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Carlo Petrini, Eliot Coleman & Jim Hightower; in The Nation

…Wendell Berry

Alice Waters has asked me if I will propose one thing that could change the way Americans think about food. I will nominate two: hunger and knowledge.

Hunger causes people to think about food, as everybody knows. But in the present world this thinking is shallow. If you wish to solve the problem of hunger, and if you have money, you buy whatever food you like. For many years there has always been an abundance of food to buy and of money to buy it with, and so we have learned to take it for granted. Few of us have considered the possibility that someday we might go with money to buy food and find little or none to buy. And yet most of our food is now produced by industrial agriculture, which has proved to be immensely productive, but at the cost of destroying the means of production. It is enormously destructive of farmland, farm communities and farmers. It wastes soil, water, energy and life. It is highly centralized, genetically impoverished and dependent on cheap fossil fuels, on long-distance hauling and on consumers’ ignorance. Its characteristic byproducts are erosion, pollution and financial despair. This is an agriculture with a short future.

Knowledge, a lot more knowledge in the minds of a lot more people, will be required to secure a long future for agriculture. Knowing how to grow food leads to food. Knowing how to grow food in the best ways leads to a dependable supply of food for a long time. At present our society and economy do not encourage or respect the best ways of food production. This is owing to the ignorance that is endemic to our society and economy. Most of our people, who have become notorious for the bulk of their food consumption, in fact know little about food and nothing about agriculture. Despite this ignorance, in which our politicians and intellectuals participate fully, some urban consumers are venturing into an authentic knowledge of food and food production, and they are demanding better food and, necessarily, better farming. When this demand grows large enough, our use of agricultural lands will change for the better. Under the best conditions, our land and farm population being so depleted, this change cannot come quickly. Whether or not it can come soon enough to avert hunger proportionate to our present ignorance, I do not know
(posted 24 Aug 2006, Sept 11 issue)
Short mini-essays by some of the best thinkers about food and culture. -BA

Stewards of wine land

Jim Downing, Sacramento Bee
Influential winemaker led drive to use sustainable practices
A decade ago, a vineyard boom sprawled into the forested Mendocino hills, and winemaker Paul Dolan didn’t like what he saw.

“We were clearing all those properties, dropping in vineyards everywhere, probably violating erosion control issues,” he said.

In the 1980s and ’90s, as the wine industry expanded, it often seemed in danger of soiling its nest: Local communities grew alienated, and government environmental agencies threatened penalties.

But that era also marked an environmental turning point for the industry, and today an increasing number of wine-grape growers are choosing to put just as much weight on environmental sustainability as they do on profitability.

The growers of nearly half of the wine grapes in the state have signed on to a code of sustainable practices, an unprecedented step for a major crop. They are using cover crops to control erosion and improve soil fertility. They are listening to nonfarming neighbors with concerns about expansion plans or pesticides. And, they’re conserving water with precision irrigation.
(28 Aug 2006)

California Seeks to Clear Hemp of a Bad Name

Patricia Leigh Brown, NY Times
STRATFORD, Calif. – Charles Meyer’s politics are as steady and unswerving as the rows of pima cotton on his Central Valley farm. With his work-shirt blue eyes and flinty Clint Eastwood demeanor, he is staunchly in favor of the war in Iraq, against gun control and believes people unwilling to recite the Pledge of Allegiance should be kicked out of America, and fast.

Domestic hemp production was promoted in World War II but later outlawed. Hemp twine was on sale this month at the 15th annual Hempfest in Seattle.

But what gets him excited is the crop he sees as a potential windfall for California farmers: industrial hemp, or Cannabis sativa. The rapidly growing plant with a seemingly infinite variety of uses is against federal law to grow because of its association with its evil twin, marijuana.

“Industrial hemp is a wholesome product,” said Mr. Meyer, 65, who says he has never worn tie-dye and professes a deep disdain for “dope.”

“The fact we’re not growing it is asinine,” Mr. Meyer said.

Things could change if a measure passed by legislators in Sacramento and now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk becomes law
(28 Aug 2006)

Black Farms, Black Markets

Habiba Alcindor, The Nation
In a playground in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with the giggles and squeals of frolicking children providing background noise, David Haughton sets up his tent and carries over crates from his truck. He comes here every week to sell his organic produce, which includes peaches, plums and apples, and novelties like callaloo, an Afro-Caribbean vegetable that he says “really sells.”

Brought up on a farm in Jamaica, where farming is the second-largest industry, Haughton immigrated to America in 1983, earning a living as a farmworker until he was able to buy his own thirty-acre farm in Clintondale, New York. He and Vermont farmer Ras Oba have been coming to Hecksher playground every week since 2005, when they were sought out by community activist Asantewaa Gail Harris, whose interest in health-related issues provided the impetus for her vision of a neighborhood farmers’ market.

…It remains to be seen whether a budding awareness of the politics of food will translate into mutually beneficial connections between inner-city “food deserts” and beleaguered black farmers. There seems to be a great need for people like farmer Phillip Barker, who directs the North Carolina-based Prize of the Harvest, which helps black farmers form co-ops and market their products.

While acknowledging historical and institutional racism, Barker focuses on problems facing all small farmers. “What we find is that once we grow a crop, we don’t have the systems in place to carry that crop to either get it processed or packed to regulations to go into the marketplace. We’ve done some things in the marketplace that haven’t been done before by black farmers or black groups,” he says, but all roads leading from their farms to the cities seem to be uphill for now.
(posted 24 Aug 2006, Sept 11 issue)

Local Food in Small Towns
The California Report Magazine
For small and organic farmers, the San Francisco Bay Area is a pretty good place to be. There are lots of farmers’ markets, restaurants that pride themselves on serving local and organic food, and plenty of people who think buying local produce makes sense. It’s another story in the far-flung towns across rural Northern California, where it’s harder for small farms to make it. But recently, groups of farmers and consumers have begun finding ways to fuel local economies with local food.
(4 Aug 2006)
Contributor Jason Bradford writes: “Interviews activists in relocalization network from Nevada City and Willits, CA.”.