Sunday, March 11, 2007

Time Magazine, Michael Pollan, Whole Foods, Thoughts on "Local"

This has been a huge week for my brain. Thursday, I received the most recent edition of Slow magazine. I'm only a tiny way into the publication; I will be taking some time to digest its contents. So, today, I'm going to focus on Time Magazine's March 12th cover story "Eating Better than Organic."

For me, the article indirectly raises some concerns. The cover-message, "Forget Organic, Eat Local," immediately urges the reader to consider a new consumer fad or trend -- something transient and easily capitalized on by marketers. Obviously, as Americans scurry to adopt this new policy in their daily lives, there will be a dramatic imbalance of supply and demand, which will ultimately lead to frustration and disappointment, and to the next trend.

It is no longer enough to simply be a consumer, to choose the right thing to buy. There must be some reciprocity between the consumer and the farmer, and the consumer and his local earth. Although I was glad to see an article that reflected a growing interest in something this important, I think greater consideration should have been given to the cover-message, the sticker on the apple.

Clearly, "Forget Organic, Eat Local" is intended to grab attention, but the slogan suggests a shift away from "organic" to "local," and in doing so fragments an important equation. The author did his research, and he did admirable job of highlighting the complexity of the problem (choosing the best alternative for the individual and for the food system/ environment), but he also excused individuals who have made a commitment to preserving and sustaining our food systems as "pessimistic," "lefty," and "frightening."

In an earlier post (comment on "Talk, Slow Food Tallahassee, Talk," I mentioned a recent public conversation between Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma) and John Mackey (CEO Whole Foods Markets). Pollan claimed that Whole Foods presented the image of an agro-ecologically sensitive store while neglecting to stock local foods from smaller, non-industrialized farms, effectively ignoring the food-quality, ecological, and socio-economic impacts of packaging and shipping foods produced on large, industrialized organic farms. So it is no surprise that after a hard year for Whole Foods (when the rest of the corporate country caught on to the consumer demand for organic foods), when an opportunity to present a reformed face in Time magazine popped up, Mackey was right there making amends with the broader public (it appears that Mackey's correspondence with John Cloud for the Time article happened last fall -- between the time of the Mackey-Pollan letters and their public conversation at U.C. Berkeley).

The high-profile Whole Foods debates bring me back to my concern: How will Tallahassee handle a shift in the demand for locally produced foods? What will we as individuals do (what will I do?) to help bolster the efforts of the few local farmers who have committed themselves to providing Tallahassee with good, clean, and fair foods? On a larger scale, what in our own country will it take to create the paradigm shift needed to sustain our food systems?

1 comment:

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