The local food movement (aka fad)

My brief fling with Michael Pollan is over since his writing smells of leftie fanaticism and faddy ideas, BUT, as I usually try to do, I want to apply skepticism and then moderation to an idea and then suck the real benefit out of it without falling for all the attitude.

To me, the local food movement is a fad (I suspect it won’t be sustained over time as most fads are not) and politics. But every bit of nonsense also sometimes contains some truth and that’s how I feel about local food.

There are two key criticisms I have:

  1. local food is promoted as the magic silver bullet to “cure” too many things, from health to economics. It’s a nice way for an elitist group to pursue their interests. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse started this and now has the groupies like Pollan and thus, by exaggeration, has run this into the ground into leftie fanaticism by overly broad and unsupported claims (or as Fox would say, hoaxes and lies)
  2. local food is a nice idea but obviously a very elite phenomenon, i.e. it is only a solution for a fairly affluent and tiny fraction of the U.S. population, much less the world population. Denouncing the agribusiness complex is an easy target as the whipping boy of all the problems of the world, but the alternate side, localism, is a romantic and effete response. Most of the world has to worry about getting enough food and food technology delivers quantity at lowest prices, but taste (and sometimes healthiness) got lost in the process.

All that said, nonetheless I say, I like the local food movement, in moderation and where appropriate. Anyone who has had a garden and picks food directly from the plant and immeidately into the kitchen knows the food tastes better (health claims are much much more dubious). Whole grains, as the preferred ingredients, for bread, are good, but for quality of the bread, not some dubious political, economic or health claims.

Last night I indulged in a rare pleasure, simply because it is expensive. Our closest local equivalent to Chez Panisse is Dante. The chef sponsors, via a mailing list, monthly (though more irregular than that) theme prix fixee dinners with wine pairings and Dante tries hard to get local food (not as easy in Nebraska as Berkeley). It ain’t cheap, but it is good. Not just the food and the wine, but the whole process of the chef coming out to explain to the group (about 20 lucky people) the food, the source of the ingredients, the method of preparation. Last night’s dinner was excellent and a real treat, but it’s not magic solution for “western disease” (in fact, my calorie consumption was excessive, despite small portions and “healthy” food and it will take a day or two of fasting to make up for it).

While obviously I’m obsessing about diet due to my need for weight loss, my real fondness for local food is culinary – it tastes better! If I’m going to eat I want to eat tasty food. And not the fake seductive “tastiness” of fast food loaded with fats and sugars (yes, I do denounce these two, but they’re just not the evil the political foodists make them out to be). I’ve said in previous posts that I have these two contradictory things in my life now, a real fascination with good cooking and eating, and my health requirements to loss weight. So local food fits both interests, but again in moderation and as a reasonable (vs dogmatic) response to my situation.

As my retirement has also substantially reduced my income my previous fondness for gourmet eating also must be reduced because simply put, it’s expensive and without a Silicon Valley professional income to support my consumption good eating (except from our own garden) has to be a rare event. That’s something I keep in mind. Knocking the “western diet” is easy if you can afford it (both money and time) but most people in the U.S. simply cannot budget this kind of luxury. So that’s why the politics is so stupid. Chez Panisse is simply too expensive and thus only the fat cat expense-account rich can afford it; that’s the silly contradiction in this mostly leftie-based food ideas. And it’s very California (now being distant from California after my life there it’s a little easier to have perspective on the illusion of the Bay Area as a model for the rest of the world).

I had a really delightful IPA from a craft brewery in Kearney Nebraska (an unlikely source, at least a decade ago). And the theme of last night’s dinner, spring vegetables, was mostly from local and very fresh sources. All these things are wonderful, if you can afford them, which I only rarely can (one good thing about my severe dieting is I’ve also drastically cut my food cost and therefore can “bank” some money for treats like Dante).

So, hurrah for the new trend in farming, that produces quality (meaning tasty) local food and I’ll consume those as much as I can afford. And I’ll continue to learn better cooking techniques (since my labor is much cheaper than Dante’s) and use of the ingredients (my Peter Reinhart based bread is both better AND cheaper than what I can buy at Whole Foods, and hugely better than what I can buy at HyVee, which is all white flour and weird chemicals, but mostly importantly, untasty mush). So I support local.

I don’t totally disagree (though mostly) with the health claims but I really don’t think that is the reason to be interested in local food. I certainly do disagree with the leftie preoccupation with hostility to commercialism (organic and local are still just as commercial as ConAgra or Cargill or General Mills). It’s not my purpose in my life to support the lifestyle of those who wish to grow tomatoes by hand (any more than shareholders of big food), but I will buy their products, when I can afford it, for the taste and pleasure of good eating.

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About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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7 Responses to The local food movement (aka fad)

  1. I’ve gone round with myself on this one too. In fact I wrote, then deleted a post much like yours! I get tired of food elitism too, thanks for voicing it.

    • dmill96 says:

      Thanks for the comment. Perhaps what bothers me is mostly the exaggeration and/or emphasis, and the total certainty of their positions (rather than the more guarded positions any evidence justifies). When you’re writing opinion (as I do) who cares, but when you’re writing to provide guidance to others you have an obligation to get it right. Plus the overly broad statements are almost all certain to come back and bite these people since there will be errors, either now or as evidence accumulates, and discrediting just a part of their argument tends to undermine the whole thing. We (and much of the rest of world, otherwise given a pass) do eat badly. Fine, give us some reasons to change and don’t work the case beyond the facts. Plus, despite being “progressive” I do think the critics of “nanny” state have a point. Information is always powerful for changing minds, but coercive positions just build resentment and resistance.

  2. Chris Panero says:

    Hi D–It took me a few minutes to figure out who you are, but now I remember! We worked together at Votan years ago (the weirdest job I ever had). I agree with you about the iPad, not so much about Michael Pollan. Have you read his Second Nature? Glad you’re well.–Chris the tech writer

    • dmill96 says:

      Amazing, hi Chris. I never would have believed someone would read any of my posts and recognize me. It’s not that I haven’t left lots of clues, but I figure I’m hiding in plain sight, lost in the huge galaxy of blogs and other sides, one of billions with a net presence. Then what are the odds that someone within the relatively small “network” I’ve had would stumble on. And even more, see a post that has enough identifying information to guess my identity.

      As to Pollan my real issue is moderation and being in the middle somewhere. I actually agree a lot more than disagree, but I actually hold the progressive side to higher standards, not to use the faulty logic and rhetorical tricks of the right. Perhaps anyone trying to persuade has to take a stronger public line whereas up-close they might be more nuanced. But many of the people I rant against are too certain (given the evidence is very ambiguous) and expand the bounds of their ideas beyond what the facts will sustain. As a consequence they are frequently wrong (as almost all nutrition advice from the past has been, as Pollan himself points out) and this makes current ideas easier targets from critics.

      Much of the skepticism the public now has about science is due to exaggerated or premature claims that then later end up having to be revised. Politics and religion are known to be opinion and subject to changing winds but science is supposed to find “truth”. While any scientist knows new evidence must be allowed to change views (or else it is just dogma) that’s why more guarded conclusions, closer to the evidence, are required.

      But I also hold “my side” to consistency. Pollan vigorously disputes nutritionism and then turns around and has a long rant about omega-3 and omega-6 (which, he doesn’t get right, btw), the very reductionism he attacks when someone else does it. And his “rules” he also violates quite freely yet skewers others for doing it. For the sake of engaging prose or persuasion one should not, however, play fast and loose with truth or logic.

      Thanks for the comment..

      • chrissoup says:

        During a fit of supreme boredom, I googled “Votan,” and your blog was the only hit that wasn’t a website consolidator. “dmill’ was enough of a hint for me to figure out the rest. Thanks for your interesting answer to my comments.

        • dmill96 says:

          Interesting. That suggests an interesting strategy for having one’s blog come to the attention of colleagues of the past – put sufficiently obscure references in posts that only a limited group of people would ever try them, or even know the reference. Perhaps that’s a new way to locate people from the past, maybe even the basis for a new social network – wheehoo.

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