Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Food! Summer! Farmers! Greens!

posted by Rod Dreher

Just back from our neighborhood farmer’s market, carrying three sacks full of kale, chard, lettuce and turnip greens. Also bought two tomatoes — it’s early for them yet, but I’m dying for some fresh tomato — and a jar of local buckwheat honey. Came home, chopped the kale, and stir-fried it with sliced chicken andouille sausage, in a little olive oil. At the whole thing with a tall glass of iced tea. Bliss. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only thing summer is good for — but boy, is it ever good. I couldn’t believe we came home with so much good, fresh food for so cheap.
Kristen at the must-read site Food Renegade sent me a Michael Pollan story earlier this week that I’ve been meaning to blog. Pollan writes in the New York Review of Books about “The Food Movement, Rising” — a review essay of food books (including one by Joel Salatin) that both document and advocate the revolutionary changes in food culture that Pollan has done so much to inspire. Read below the jump for some choice excerpts:

Cheap food has become an indispensable pillar of the modern economy. But it is no longer an invisible or uncontested one. One of the most interesting social movements to emerge in the last few years is the “food movement,” or perhaps I should say “movements,” since it is unified as yet by little more than the recognition that industrial food production is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high.
As that list suggests, the critics are coming at the issue from a great many different directions. Where many social movements tend to splinter as time goes on, breaking into various factions representing divergent concerns or tactics, the food movement starts out splintered. Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.
It’s a big, lumpy tent, and sometimes the various factions beneath it work at cross-purposes. For example, activists working to strengthen federal food safety regulations have recently run afoul of local food advocates, who fear that the burden of new regulation will cripple the current revival of small-farm agriculture. Joel Salatin, the Virginia meat producer and writer who has become a hero to the food movement, fulminates against food safety regulation on libertarian grounds in his Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. Hunger activists like Joel Berg, in All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?, criticize supporters of “sustainable” agriculture–i.e., producing food in ways that do not harm the environment–for advocating reforms that threaten to raise the cost of food to the poor. Animal rights advocates occasionally pick fights with sustainable meat producers (such as Joel Salatin), as Jonathan Safran Foer does in his recent vegetarian polemic, Eating Animals.

More:

But there are indications that these various voices may be coming together in something that looks more and more like a coherent movement. Many in the animal welfare movement, from PETA to Peter Singer, have come to see that a smaller-scale, more humane animal agriculture is a goal worth fighting for, and surely more attainable than the abolition of meat eating. Stung by charges of elitism, activists for sustainable farming are starting to take seriously the problem of hunger and poverty. They’re promoting schemes and policies to make fresh local food more accessible to the poor, through programs that give vouchers redeemable at farmers’ markets to participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and food stamp recipients. Yet a few underlying tensions remain: the “hunger lobby” has traditionally supported farm subsidies in exchange for the farm lobby’s support of nutrition programs, a marriage of convenience dating to the 1960s that vastly complicates reform of the farm bill–a top priority for the food movement.
The sociologist Troy Duster reminds us of an all-important axiom about social movements: “No movement is as coherent and integrated as it seems from afar,” he says, “and no movement is as incoherent and fractured as it seems from up close.” Viewed from a middle distance, then, the food movement coalesces around the recognition that today’s food and farming economy is “unsustainable”–that it can’t go on in its current form much longer without courting a breakdown of some kind, whether environmental, economic, or both.

Read the whole thing. It’s a pretty great overview of the movement, and its various strands. I especially liked this bit, about how the food movement is about promoting a certain vision of culture as much as it is about law and economics:

It would be a mistake to conclude that the food movement’s agenda can be reduced to a set of laws, policies, and regulations, important as these may be. What is attracting so many people to the movement today (and young people in particular) is a much less conventional kind of politics, one that is about something more than food. The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.
[snip]
Though seldom articulated as such, the attempt to redefine, or escape, the traditional role of consumer has become an important aspiration of the food movement. In various ways it seeks to put the relationship between consumers and producers on a new, more neighborly footing, enriching the kinds of information exchanged in the transaction, and encouraging us to regard our food dollars as “votes” for a different kind of agriculture and, by implication, economy. The modern marketplace would have us decide what to buy strictly on the basis of price and self-interest; the food movement implicitly proposes that we enlarge our understanding of both those terms, suggesting that not just “good value” but ethical and political values should inform our buying decisions, and that we’ll get more satisfaction from our eating when they do.
In fact it’s hard to say which comes first: the desire to promote local agriculture or the desire to promote local economies more generally by cutting ties, to whatever degree possible, to the national economic grid. This is at bottom a communitarian impulse, and it is one that is drawing support from the right as well as the left. Though the food movement has deep roots in the counterculture of the 1960s, its critique of corporate food and federal farm subsidies, as well as its emphasis on building community around food, has won it friends on the right. In his 2006 book Crunchy Cons, Rod Dreher identifies a strain of libertarian conservatism, often evangelical, that regards fast food as anathema to family values, and has seized on local food as a kind of culinary counterpart to home schooling.

Like I said, read the whole thing.



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Comments read comments(18)
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James Pilant

posted May 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm


I am deeply impressed by how much content you generate. You must be close to a natural writer. jp



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Jon

posted May 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm


I’ve harvested my first veggies from the graden: radishes. Can’t wait till I start getting peppers, tomatoes etc. as well. So far it looks like it might be a good year.



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Scott Lahti

posted May 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm


I sent that Michael Pollan essay “The Food Movement, Rising”, with its extended treatment of Joel Salatin, &c., to friends under the header
By the time Mike gets to Foodies, They’ll Be Rising, or, Salatin Breadsticks
I liked this passage especially:
“…the food movement has set out to foster new forms of civil society. But instead of proposing that space as a counterweight to an overbearing state, as is usually the case, the food movement poses it against the dominance of corporations and their tendency to insinuate themselves into any aspect of our lives from which they can profit. As Wendell Berry writes, the corporations
will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so.
“The corporatization of something as basic and intimate as eating is, for many of us today, a good place to draw the line.”



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Julia

posted May 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm


It looks like it’s going to be a good year for veggie gardening! We’re a bit delayed down here because winter was longer and colder than normal. But my zucchini are really taking off and a few should be ready to pick in the next week. I’m resisting the temptation to pick some baby lettuce, LOL.
My veggie garden isn’t very big but it’s such a lovely hobby. The taste of the veggies is incomparable and it does help out the food budget, too.



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Joshua

posted May 29, 2010 at 7:56 pm


I second all that comments about it being a good year so far. From where I sit in northern Vermont, my garden is off to a great start. Potatoes are in, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Everything else goes in tomorrow. In case you were wondering, the only limiting factor on what has gone in so far is TIME. Tomorrow should be good enough weather for me to put the rest into the ground.
And the captcha for all this? “Soybean Approaches.” Better stop this thing before it starts writing the comments for us!



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Richard

posted May 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm


I’m glad to hear y’all are looking at a good year! Everything here is off to a good start, and if the strawberry harvest is any indication of the rest of our garden, it’ll be a bumper season.



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Cecelia

posted May 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm


Rod said: this is the only thing summer is good for –
You can’t be serious – the only thing summer is good for- fresh veggies? How about fine weather, hanging out with the friends and family ’round the pool or on the porch with a good bottle of wine or a couple of beers? The beach!! Hiking, evening walks, long day light.
I love summer – and I love working my garden. Been a bit cool but not quite so rainy as last year (which was a disaster here) so I am optimistic. Tomorrow is dedicated to getting more peas and beans in.



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Hector

posted May 30, 2010 at 3:39 pm


Re: You can’t be serious – the only thing summer is good for- fresh veggies?
Well, summer is very nice in the North, but if you live in Dallas or Lousiana, probably not so much. :)
And yes, I know that Rod lives in Philadelphia now, but old habits die hard.



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Julia

posted May 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm


Exactly, Hector. Many of us in the South anticipate summer with the same dread that many in the Northeast feel toward winter. I didn’t realize until I moved south that months of bright, insufferably hot sunshine could become just as depressing as months of bleak, cold snow. We suffer through three months of blazing heat but at least the rest of the year is grand!
It can make gardening a challenge, too. (I have not had any success with bell peppers down here, sigh.)



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Jon

posted May 30, 2010 at 5:15 pm


Re: Many of us in the South anticipate summer with the same dread that many in the Northeast feel toward winter.
Yes indeed: Florida summers are the eqivalent of a northern winter. You take refuge indoors in climate-controlled evironments and you groan about the weather daily. Apart from some tropical ornamentals you can’t grow much in the summer; fall through spring is the growing season there. And just as northerners dread a blizzard in winter, Floridians dread a hurricane in summer.



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Rod Dreher

posted May 30, 2010 at 7:18 pm


True, true: summer in the South is really punishing. I talked to my dad last week. He said they’d been out in his garden digging potatoes, but the heat (mid to upper 90s) and the humidity had been so fierce they could only manage half an hour of hard work before having to come inside. Mind you, he’s 75, but still, it’s brutal down there. Meanwhile, we were in the 70s and lower 80s last week here in Philly.
In Dallas, the worst thing about summer, at least where we lived, was that by the time it was cool enough outside to be tolerable in the evening, the mosquitoes came out. We pretty much spent more time inside during the summer than in the winter. We know some Dallas homeschoolers who took their “summer” vacation in the early spring, late fall or winter, because the kids could actually go outside and play, as they really couldn’t do in the summer.
Cecelia, if I’d grown up with a swimming pool, or ever had one, I’d probably think more favorably about summer. It’s my least-favorite season. In fact, if not for the fresh vegetables, I’d be happy to sleep right through it and wake up at the end of September.



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thehova

posted May 31, 2010 at 5:40 am


I still think the south has big, big weather advantage. The truth of the matter is that it’s really not much cooler in the north than the south for a good deal of the summer.
For example, I live in Cincinnati. I’ve checked the temps. It’s roughly been as hot and humid in Cincinnati as in Houston for the past week. In contrast, temps wildly separate between the 2 cities during winter (additionally, every summer I visit some friends in Miami. It’s always slightly cooler in Miami than the midwest).
Bottom line: there’s a reason why people move to the south from the north for the weather.



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thehova

posted May 31, 2010 at 6:50 am


I enjoyed reading the article and generally approve of the “food revolution”.
But I do think it’s not a cure all for health problems. According to a doctor friend, the most rigorous studies do not show measurable health improvements from organic foods, anti-oxidants, and even vitamins (although Vitamin D and fish oil are promising).
When it comes down to it, in the US, we have to cut down on consumption.



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Jon

posted May 31, 2010 at 7:35 am


Re: The truth of the matter is that it’s really not much cooler in the north than the south for a good deal of the summer.
In the North you certainly get a fair amount of 90/90 weather (that’s 90+ temps and 90+ humdity), but it doesn’t last; after a week or so it will break. At least in Florida the 90/90 days last from May through September, even into October some years. Only a hurricane (which you don’t want obviously) is capable of bringing a cool down.
But there’s also something to be said for picking fresh tomatoes and cutting fresh roses to take to Christmas dinner, and for being able to dance outdoors under the stars of winter.



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Hector

posted May 31, 2010 at 8:10 am


Re: For example, I live in Cincinnati. I’ve checked the temps. It’s roughly been as hot and humid in Cincinnati as in Houston for the past week
Cincinati is only marginally the North; it’s virtually on the Kentucky border, no? It’s ‘North’ in the same sense that DC is the North. And yes, as Jon says, the North can get hot (we had 90 degree weather and high humidity yesterday) but it comes and goes in short periods, it doesn’t last. I’ve lived in a number of northern cities without air conditioning before, and never really felt like I missed it.



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thehova

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:52 am


yes, Cincinnati lies sort of on the border between midwest and south.
But still, I’m sort of a whether channel geek, and I do think the north gets hotter during the summer than the south gets cold.
Just a wild guess, I think it has to do with all of the humidity coming from the Gulf of Mexico during summer. It cultivates a nearly uniform block of hot, humid whether for the eastern half of the country.



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thehova

posted May 31, 2010 at 11:54 am


oops, didn’t quite finish that middle sentence. I meant to say:
But still, I’m sort of a whether channel geek, and I do think the north gets hotter during the summer than the south gets cold DURING THE WINTER.



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thehova

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:25 pm


wow, just realized I used the wrong weather. It would be awesome if we could edit comments.



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