I love food. Who doesn’t? I love everything (almost) from snails and caviar to a great cheeseburger and french fries (just not the industrial types). Yet as the Slow Food Nation wraps up in San Francisco, I worry about how a food culture that was supposed to celebrate and invite everyone, is becoming increasingly upscaled and out of reach of the people that need good, clean food yet may be able to least afford it. I have always felt that my first highest responsibility to people who have worked for me is to train them to take over my job some day. That is, raise them up, not shut them out. The same should be true of our food economy and culture. Slow Food, farmers markets, u-pick farms, Whole Foods, and co-ops should not be seen as elitist enterprises. But often through various marketing schemes, that’s exactly how they look to those on the outside looking in. But neither should these same enterprises stop their marketing approach. They instead should continue to pave the way, ushering in new food devotees and supporting culinary equality.
One of the sad facts about how Americans generally approach food is that they expect it to be cheap. Americans spend less of their income–per capita–on food than practically any other nation on Earth. On the whole, we need to realize that in order to get better food, we need to spend our dollars differently and “invest” more in a food system that encourages small farms, and good, clean, safe food, rather than encourage one that comprises dollar menus and the destruction of the Earth’s environment.
Not everyone will be able to shop at Whole Foods, Balducci’s, or Dean and DeLuca. This blog isn’t about economic equality per se, but rather about a cultural shift in what’s really important to our quality of life and how we “invest” our income in the future of this country. But it is also about how the food providers make sure they encourage a shift in buying patterns by making sure the best in good clean food is available to their customers, instead of pandering to the lowest bidder and providing only the cheapest stuff (I hesitate to call it food) they can buy at the terminal markets on any given day. This approach doesn’t encourage better eating or spending patterns, it is destructive to the Earth, and it perpetuates a system that has shown itself to be bad for the environment.
We need small farms that produce food that is not only good to eat, but good for you and the Earth. And the only way to grow that kind of system is make sure we have a system of culinary equality (producer driven) with a cultural shift in food values and where a household’s food dollar goes (consumer driven).
Not everyone likes or even wants caviar. So if we could just start with making sure everyone has access to food that hasn’t had the bejesus sprayed out of it, sucking all the nutritional value with it, that would be a good start. Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Roots! Put out the Welcome mat today!