Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Inch Deep


We're right in the middle of New York apple season--my season--and we're once again being smacked in the face by the duplicity of some large food companies and grocery chains, and their commitment to "Local." As you may be aware, Local is all the rage. It is the latest trend in food. Really!

In Europe, local has always been what's its been about. Small farms dot the landscape; small family wineries still make the same really mediocre wines they have for centuries; goats and sheep are shepherded across the road; cheeses actually taste like cheese.

But here in America, we're so damned in love with the lowest price and the best supermarket deals, that we forget some of the underlying costs that allow those deals to exist in the first place. Deals that encourage multinational corporations to source anything they need from anywhere in the world with little or no regard for small farms. So be it. The next iteration of our farmland is bad architecture and traffic jams.

Americans for too many years have paid absurdly low prices for food. Because of horrible government programs and this love affair with cheap, the real price of food has never even been approached much less paid by your average consumer. But thanks to the resurgence of sincere interest in locally grown products, the salvation of the small farmer has arrived. Or has it?

The fact is that the majority of our food system in the US is still mired in decades old price supports and bad food policy. The average consumer still doesn't get that if they want local, they'll have to pay more for it. It is that simple. But they complain to their produce managers about prices, and the managers in turn do exactly what they have been trained to do: buy cheap.

This hurts the local farmer; our open spaces; our clean air and water; those wonderful vistas; and most importantly the security of local food supply. My experiences over the past week certainly suggest that my theory is correct: Most large food companies and grocery store's commitments to local is an inch deep and a mile wide. That's why your consumer that cares is going to farm markets, farmer's markets, CSAs, and to shop at chain stores that really care, like Whole Foods and Balducci's.

Americans have a choice. They can save 20 cents a lb on apples, or they can support local. They'll shell out over a hundred dollars a month on cable TV, but God forbid they have to pay a few dimes more for apples. You get a lot for that 20 cents; more than you'll ever find on the 500 channels of crap on TV. Come on Folks [this means produce managers, too], step to the Plate!

Disclaimer: this blog is meant for those least likely to read it. For those of you already on board: thank you; thank you; thank you!!

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