Apr 142007

From The Viand Zine, Issue 1 April 2007

I think food is the connecting issue between our personal lives (health, happiness, security), social-justice issues (everyone should have healthy, culturally appropriate, fresh food), economic issues (corporations are trying to take over the food supply from seed to table, destroying farmers, small processors, safety and quality of food) and ecological issues (the top agenda item for a sustainable system is to reduce transport distance, so we need our local farms). The cutting edge of the organic movement is NOT happening at Whole Foods, and it’s not about rich yuppies getting their bodies pure. It’s in urban communities of color who are asserting the right to “community food security,” which is an amazing movement in this country. See www.growingfoodandjustice.org.

Cooking and the kitchen can be very simple. And when you use fresh food from the market the flavor is exponentially better than anything else. It’s going to be good whatever you do to it! I call the farmers’ market my church. I’m devout. I go two or three times a week. I try to give as much of my food budget as possible directly to farmers and to other artisanal producers. I buy more than I can eat and cook for anybody I can get my hands on. It’s a myth that organic food is more expensive. Organic processed food is probably more expensive than its counterpart, but I don’t buy that stuff. I mostly eat kale, collard greens, dandelions, swiss chard. A bunch a day. They cost about $1.50 each. That adds up to … what? $11 a week? I only buy tomatoes when they’re in season. $2.50 a pound seems like a lot, but they are so full of flavor and nutrients and it’s an extravagance only a few months a year. I read an interview with a farmer who charges $3.50 a dozen for his eggs. He said, “Well, yes, they’re expensive. You can pay me, or you can pay your doctor.”

We need a better understanding of what farmers do and why it’s sustainable and healthful. Here’s a typical misunderstanding: People think of fish as the “clean” meat to eat, but a lot of it is heavily contaminated. On a political level, it’s almost totally unregulated and very wasteful. Shrimp farms and other aquaculture are displacing coastal communities and destroying the delicate mangrove ecosystems. The fish industry is really raping the ocean. I see sushi [in its U.S./western context] as a very elitist food — it’s skimming the top from this disgusting, destructive industry and presenting it as if it’s so fine and elegant and sophisticated. Very colonial mentality.

I eat and serve farm-raised meat. Farmers have had thousands of years to learn animal husbandry and to manage farms ecologically. That system is sustainable. Another reason to eat meat is that it’s very hard for small farms to make it economically or ecologically just on vegetables. You can only charge so much for a vegetable, and it takes a lot of work to grow it and it has a short shelf life. Animals grow lots more mass per unit of labor. They output nutrients instead of uptaking them. Then they walk themselves off the farm when the farmer is ready to harvest, bringing a big price that helps to stabilize the farm economy.

I am so grateful to good bread bakers and cheese makers — and the farmers, of course. I don’t mind paying a lot for those things. In the United States, generally we don’t pay enough for food. People think food should be “cheap,” which ruins farmers. Our farmers haven’t gotten a raise for decades. This is misplaced priorities. Good food is much more important to our health and happiness and the maintenance of our communities and culture than Tivo and big-screen TVs, but people don’t want to pay for food. We’re proud to pay for technology and electronics! But the TV makes us feel bad about themselves and isolates us from other people and nature. What makes us feel connected and empowered? Cooking for each other …

For me, the Viand is a space to show people the abundance that is available to us, right here , right now, in our lives.

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