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."
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.
Some environmentalists at one time applauded cremation because of the environmental effects of caskets and embalming fluid; also, graves took up too much room. But now some are concerned about (a) the amount of fuel it takes to cremate a body, and (b) the release of mercury (from dental fillings) during the process. One result: Home funerals and green burials are growing in popularity.
Home funerals basically bypass the funeral home and its cost ($6,000 and up for a burial) in order to have the body at home until it's transported to the burial site, which is not necessarily a cemetery. Dry ice takes the place of embalming fluid, and the body lies on a bed rather than in a satin-lined casket during visitation. Only five states-Delaware, New York, Nebraska, Connecticut, and Indiana-ban home funerals.
It's now possible to buy a variety of biodegradable shrouds and caskets, some costing as little as $100. The Natural Burial Company has an online gallery of eco-friendly coffins, including the eco-pod, made out of recycled newspaper.
GE has a website that provides brilliant images and facts about the developing life of a preborn infant (gehealthcare.com/usen/patient/ultrasound/obtimeline_new.html). Viewers can click on a week (week 11, for example), see a 4D ultrasound image, and learn these important developments: "clear outline of spine visible, ears in place, movement of bodies and arms and legs seen on ultrasound, many major central nervous system defects can be identified through ultrasound, heartbeat around 137-144 bpm."
The beginning of the school year brought a raft of articles on helicopter parents, those creatures who hover over their kids-fighting their children's battles, blowing their noses, doing their homework, scolding their teachers.
One mother took another path. Lenore Skenazy wrote in the New York Sun about letting her 9-year-old son make his way home via subway and bus from the main Bloomingdale's store in New York City. She wrote, "For weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call."
The boy got home safely and felt competent and exultant about the experience, but when Skenazy told friends about her son's accomplishment they were shocked that she let him do it. "Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse."
Skenazy, unrepentant, now keeps a blog called Free Range Kids where she asks, "Do you ever . . . let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail."