August 14, 2010

Thoughts on Food Policy

As you may know, I'm emotionally and logically fascinated by food. Food enjoyment. Food systems. Food culture. Patterns of food consumption. Food politics. All of it, really.

Most of the time, I process it internally. It comes up in conversation and I share my views, what I know, personally, from trying to make the majority of my own food from fresh self- or locally-obtained ingredients, what I've gleaned from reading and travel, and what I recall from the rants of my 3rd-generation small-scale farmer of 80 acres grandfather who eventually terminated his farming operations for economic reasons (selling land to winemakers and leasing the remainder of the land, claiming, there's no living to be made in farming anymore).

E2 sent me a link to a great article today, that had several fascinating statements:

One sociologist calculated that people have ten times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do in the supermarket.

--Huh. I wonder what the Harvard Happiness Studies would do with this data. I'm guessing, based on extrapolation from the correlation between the number of neighbor interactions and self-reported happiness (which, by the way, blew me away), the Harvard Happiness studies would probably treat shopping at a farmer's market vs. shopping at a grocery store as a variable that was correlated with increased happiness. Happiness is not very well modeled in modern economics, but I thought it was an interesting point, nonetheless.

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.

--Holy Crap. Wow. Refusing to eat fast food is as much of a rejection of general social norms as endorsing home schooling? Wow. I had no idea. Is this guy off his rocker?

And on the Slow Food movement, this article dares to ask:

Ever the Italian, Petrini puts pleasure at the center of his politics, which might explain why Slow Food is not always taken as seriously as it deserves to be. For why shouldn’t pleasure figure in the politics of the food movement?

Here. here.

In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating “foodwork”—everything involved in putting meals on the family table—we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal.

--This seems outdated to me. Perhaps I live in a sheltered world, but the trend to me seems to be that people (and particularly my female friends and colleagues) are reaching out and adopting ways to re-learn forgotten food cultures of their ancestors, to re-engage with food pleasures, and, in general, these endeavors are seen as lofty goals, admirable, (and something to be capitalized upon by the marketers -- see the Eat Pray Love/Cost Plus partnership).

On the political value of breaking bread:

Flammang attributes some of the loss of civility in Washington to the aftermatch of the 1994 Republican Revolution, when Newt Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House, urged his freshman legislators not to move their families to Washington. Members now returned to their districts every weekend, sacrificing opportunities for socializing across party lines and, in the process, the “reservoirs of good will replenished at dinner parties.” It is much harder to vilify someone with whom you have shared a meal.

--I have experienced first-hand the value of many shared meals. While I am not remotely attached to Washington D.C. or its machinations, this explanation sounds reasonable to me.

Flammang points out that the historical priority of the American labor movement has been to fight for money, while the European labor movement has fought for time, which she suggests may have been the wiser choice.

--Interesting. Certainly, in deciding to start my own law practice, I opted for the latter. Whether I would have considered doing so without having lived in France and Italy, I'll never know. But, a very interesting perspective.

Overall, I appreciated the perspective and the points raised by this article. I may not have agreed with all of them, but I do think we, as a culture, should be discussing them, and I'm happy that they are being raised.


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