Monday, March 09, 2009

Michael Pollan needs your help

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food (my related posts here and here), is starting a new project to document the common sense food wisdom of regular people:

“Eat your colors,” an Australian reader’s grandmother used to tell her; now we hear the same advice from nutritionists, citing the value of including as many different phytochemicals in the diet as possible....

I want to create a compendium of such rules, across cultures and also time. Some of the rules readers have sent me so far are specifically about navigating the modern food landscape: “It’s not food if it comes to you through the window of a car.” “Don’t eat at any restaurant of which there is more than just one.” “A snack is not the same thing as a treat.” “If a bug won’t eat it, why would you?” and so on.

Will you send me a food rule you try to live by? Something perhaps passed down by your parents or grandparents? Or something you’ve come up with to tell your children – or yourself?

When I was a kid, my mother made her own bread & butter pickles (with all that mustard seed in the bottom of the jar, yum!), canned peaches and other fruit, and baked so much fresh bread that we stopped eating it. My dad made homemade ice cream in a hand-cranked ice cream maker. Once my parents even used an antique butter churn to make our own butter (with cream from the unhomogenized whole milk that we got straight from a dairy farm).

It was good stuff, and I've often thought that it's sad that so few people do these things anymore, especially the pickling and canning. Pollan's project to collect our food lore seems right on to me.

You can post your contributions as comments here.

WRITING THIS POST I was reminded of an article I read in the August 2005 issue of Harper's. It looked at the largely organic and highly sustainable methods that Cuba's small farmers and gardeners have had to improvise in response to their economic isolation. From "The Cuba diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?":

In so doing they have created what may be the world's largest working model of a semi-sustainable agriculture, one that doesn't rely nearly as heavily as the rest of the world does on oil, on chemicals, on shipping vast quantities of food back and forth. They import some of their food from abroad—a certain amount of rice from Vietnam, even some apples and beef and such from the United States. But mostly they grow their own, and with less ecological disruption than in most places. In recent years organic farmers have visited the island in increasing numbers and celebrated its accomplishment. As early as 1999 the Swedish parliament awarded the Organic Farming Group its Right Livelihood Award, often styled the “alternative Nobel,” and Peter Rosset, the former executive director of the American advocacy group Food First, heralded the “potentially enormous implications” of Cuba's new agricultural system.

The island's success may not carry any larger lesson. Cuban agriculture isn't economically competitive with the industrial farming exemplified by a massive food producer across the Caribbean, mostly because it is highly labor-intensive....

There's always at least the possibility, however, that larger sections of the world might be in for “Special Periods” of their own. Climate change, or the end of cheap oil, or the depletion of irrigation water, or the chaos of really widespread terrorism, or some other malign force might begin to make us pay more attention to the absolute bottom-line question of how we get our dinner (a question that only a very few people, for a very short period of time, have ever been able to ignore). No one's predicting a collapse like the one Cuba endured—probably no modern economy has ever undergone such a shock. But if things got gradually harder? After all, our planet is an island, too. It's somehow useful to know that someone has already run the experiment.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home