Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg

'Locavores' rising

Lifestyle/Technology | The Slow Food movement gains adherents

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Late last month farmers markets in New York City-a big one at Union Square, and dozens of neighborhood ones lining sidewalks and plazas-were bursting with a corn-ucopia of locally grown produce: melons, lettuce, beets, sweet corn, apples, peaches, plums, onions, beans, broccoli, squash.

All of that was good news for "locavores," to use the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2007 Word of the Year: A locavore eats only locally grown foods. Prompted by the success of books such as Barbara Kinsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, the "eat local" trend is growing.

Some locavores wage war on "industrial foods." Others, given ammunition by this year's rise in gas prices, emphasize transportation cost. The Treehugger website, a "one-stop shop for green news," says "local food reduces or eliminates the costs, both monetary and planetary, of transportation, processing, packaging, and advertising." The New York Times summarizes the locavore view this way: "Long-distance food, with its attendant petroleum consumption and cheap wages, is harming the planet and does nothing to help build communities."

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Some locavores are part of Slow Food USA, the American branch of the Italian-based Slow Food movement: "Slow Food is about coming together as a food community . . . to create and enjoy food that is good, clean and fair. Slow Food is also simply about taking the time to slow down and to enjoy life with family and friends." The Slow Food manifesto speaks of the "insidious virus" of Fast Life, "which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods." Fast food is the enemy, some locavores argue.

Although popular articles about the local or slow food movements usually cite left-wing concerns, Ed Harris, a student of the local food movement, points out that its appeal goes both ways. When framed as a social justice or environmental issue, it appeals to those on the left. When framed as a matter of tradition and family values, some on the right (for example, the June 30 issue of The American Conservative) hop on the bandwagon.

Whether arguing from the right or the left, slow food people believe the food system built on supermarkets and agribusiness is immoral-despite the fact that it feeds the world. "Cheap food" is an epithet. The New York Times, reporting on "Slow Food Nation," a summer event in San Francisco that drew more than 60,000 people to enjoy food and lectures, said, "Words like 'Monsanto' evoked hisses from the audience; 'land reform' drew whoops."

San Francisco magazine described the summer event this way: "Slow Food Nation has all the signs of being a two-faced colossus. . . . For the $65 regular admission, the Taste Pavilions offer a walk through a rare-fied artisanal foodscape. Individual pavilions present goodies like olive oil, chocolate, and charcuterie, all curated by a pantheon of the Bay Area's food elite. . . . Across town at the Civic Center-free for the strolling-the vibe skews street-fair populist, with a glorified farmers' market and Slow on the Go, a multi-culti food court hawking Mexican masa snacks and Chinese hand-pulled noodles."

Will slow food change the world? Can small, organic farmers feed us all? Can poor people afford to eat slow food? What about residents of cities that aren't in good farming areas? According to the Columbia Journalism Review, most journalists aren't asking those kinds of questions.

And what if you don't care about food politics? You just want a good tomato or a carrot plucked fresh from the dirt. Maybe you don't have time to garden, but you remember the vegetable garden of your youth and wish you could have one today. LocalHarvest.org/csa has a directory of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, where consumers buy a share in a farmer's harvest. Typically the subscription runs throughout the summer: Consumers get fresh produce, farmers get a guaranteed income.

Two websites offer tools to potential locavores: 100MileDiet.org offers a map tool that allows people to figure out what might be available in their own 100-mile radius. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) provides information about what's available locally by month (www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles).

Green to the grave

In 2005 cremations made up about 30 percent of the funeral business, and the National Funeral Directors Association estimates that the percentage will increase to more than 38 percent by 2010. According to the Cremation Association of North America, cremation is most popular in the West and least popular in the South, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.


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