Thursday, June 18, 2009

Side of Snap Peas

Maureen Dowd wrote a great article in yesterday's NY Times titled Hold the Fries in which she describes the confusing messages sent by the Obamas regarding food. While we can celebrate the work of the First Lady with the organic White House garden and the words (and frequent personal eating habits) of the President in support of healthy lifestyles, the President often uses his time on the television to show Americans he is "just like them" by eating fries and cheeseburgers.

Obama Foodorama has great coverage of the food-life of the Obamas, including an interesting article yesterday regarding the role of the First Lady in the food debate. You can also see the First Lady's comments on eating healthy and locally on the White House website. But with all this great publicity for healthy lifestyles and good food, Dowd challenges us to ask why we are so jazzed to see the President feeding himself, guests, and staff fries and burgers.

The article got me thinking about why the President often has to avoid talking about and eating arugula (or other fresh, organic fruits & vegetables) in public. I love talking (or blogging) about my attempt to change my eating habits by shopping at farmer's markets, supporting CSAs and local farms, eating organic, growing my own food, and cooking and preparing meals from scratch. I happen to love arugula. But, there is an important aspect of the "local/organic/sustainable/etc. food movement" that is highlighted by the President's ambivalence towards his love of healthy food: accessibility.

Raj Patel's book Stuffed and Starved describes the fights over the food system, beginning with the choices made in the fields and ending with the experience of the consumer in the supermarket. The book is fantastic and covers a wide range of issues in an interesting and insightful manner. He successfully portrays many of the dichotomies within the food system, often boiling down to the haves and the have-nots. He raises the question, if access to food is considered a basic human right, why is price an obstacle to eating organically and locally? Why is the schism in eating habits (and subsequent rates of diet related diseases, such as diabetes) between rich and poor so tremendous, and growing every day?

I agree with many food advocates that good (sustainable) food must cost more than the prices we are used to under the current industrial food system. It is the exploitation of natural resources, as well as government subsidies for crops such as soy and corn, that keep our food prices artificially low. Food prices at the supermarket do not reflect the taxes and environmental devastation "paid" to maintain low food cost (not to mention ethical compromises made regarding basic human and workers' rights). It costs more to raise a cow or pig outside of a CAFO like the Salatin's do on Polyface Farm. But it is worth it.

That said, we are still challenged by the fact that many people (or most people) cannot afford to eat along the tenets of Michael Pollan (while I certainly try to) or the Slow Food Movement. Regarding the Slow Food Movement, Patel write, "The most pressing problem for most of us as consumers is, of course, that to be able to go on a culinary odyssey in the first place and, even more, to be truly at liberty to savour food, to have the time to quaff and roll, the majority of people need that passport to all other freedoms- money."

The obstacles for us to reach true global accessibility to sustainable, healthy food can seem insurmountable. But we each have a responsibility to do our part. Because, as Patel writes: "Unless you're a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you. Around the world, farmers and farmworkers are dying, with the connivance of elected officials, and at the whim of the market. Through processed food, consumers are engorged and intoxicated. The agribusiness's food and marketing have contributed to record levels of diet-related disease, harming us today and planting a time-bomb in the bodies of children around the world."

Liz of The Jew and The Carrot wrote a great post yesterday as well about this same issue and has some suggestions about how to do your part to make good food accessible to more people. We must each do what we can to support local agriculture and take time to know more about the food we eat. We can each do our part. Including the Obamas, who are navigating the same critical issues as each of us. We each struggle with the question of how to actively support the organic/sustainable food movement while also promoting accessibility to healthy food for all.

While the dialogue is opening up regarding these issues, and I think we are making strides in the right direction, there is much more work to do.

That said, I was able to successfully make my second batch of yogurt last night! It turned out even better than the first.

Posted this to Fight Back Fridays, so make sure to check out the Food Renegade's great blog!


  1. Susan a.k.a. MOMJune 18, 2009 at 9:26 PM

    Your description of President Obama's conflicting images (organic/healthy vs. "All American" burger & fries)captures the underlying socioeconomic factors at work. Healthy, nourishing food should be made available to all, just like affordable healthcare and effective school systems. I agree that the organic/sustainable food movement should not become the option for the most privileged.
    Being with you, Katherine and her family on Sunday making cheese and pizzas was so much fun. You are inspiring me to think more seriously about food.

  2. Believe it or not, for the past five years, I've consistently fed my family nutrient-dense, sustainably raised foods for less than the federal food-budget guidelines for low-income families. It CAN be done!

    You can buy the meat in bulk from farmers, rather than by the cut. This way, I can get hundreds of pounds of every imaginable cut from a grass-fed cow for a mere $3.29/lb. Same goes for pork. And for chicken, I pay $2.50/lb for pastured hens raised according to Joel Salatin's methods. My most expensive item is raw milk at $6.50/gallon. But, that can be lower depending on where you live. (A friend of mine buys her from a neighboring Amish farmer for $2.50/gallon!)

    My point is to say that for most lower-income families, it's not the affordability of good food that's the problem, it's the access. If you live in an inner city with no grocery stores for miles and only the bus for transportation, most of your food budget is going to go to the convenience store on the corner and the fast food joints you walk past.

    Thanks for sharing this in today's Fight Back Fridays carnival. This is definitely an important issue to think about!

    (AKA FoodRenegade)