Saturday, August 9, 2008

Crashing the party

"Reading through the recent food-politics bookshelf, it's too easy to take away an "industrial food bad, local food good" attitude. But how many modern-day locavores would readily embrace the life of, say, a 19th-century prairie farmer, tending to livestock, grain crops, and a vegetable patch without electricity or machine power? Shopping at farmers markets and joining CSAs -- activities I wholeheartedly support -- present a necessary challenge to a global food system gone mad, but are unlikely to prove sufficient for transforming it. To mount a real challenge, we'll need a clear-eyed grounding in the history and economics of food production, in addition to locavore zeal. And that's were Roberts makes an important contribution.
But Robert's historical frame drives home a key point that his predecessors didn't quite nail down: In many ways, modern food production is an attractive response to centuries of chronic food insecurity. Who wants to spend nearly all of one's income on food, and rely on sugared tea as a key source of calories, as did the 19th-century British working class? Who wants to spend hours a day preparing food as peasant women did, not by choice but for survival? By the dawn of the 20th century, people quite understandably longed for food security and freedom from drudgery. The modern food system -- for all of the new problems it created -- largely met those desires, at least in the United States and Europe. The locavore movement will eventually have to confront them head on."

Very true, realistic and pragmatic. A review of Paul Robert's important book: The End of Food.

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