Posts Tagged ‘Slow Food USA’
“When it comes to restoring grasslands, ecologists may have another way to evaluate their progress — ants.” So begins Science Daily‘s recently featured research on the ecological impact of ants. Maybe the organizers of Slow Meat 2014—dedicated as they all are to restoring grasslands—should have invited the great myrmecologist E. O. Wilson to discuss pasture restoration rather than Allan Savory, who wants to stack global deserts cheek to jowl with cattle in order to make the dry lands bloom. As the lead researcher involved in the ant study, Laura Winkler, said, the impact of ants–who aerate the oil, protect plants, and attract wildlife—is “like having dairy cattle.” And, if we are carnivorously intent on taking a pound or two of flesh from the pasture, ants don’t have to go to the slaughterhouse. Plus, they do better in a drought. Read more about it here.
(Thanks to Mary Finelli for the tip.)
Next week Slow Food USA will host an event called Slow Meat 2014. Allan Savory, the current guru of rotational grazing, will deliver the keynote address. Obscuring the ethics of slaughter behind culinary rhetoric, the event—among other stunts—will “honor” the American bison (the meeting is in Colorado) with an “artistic, narrated breakdown.” Which basically means Slow Foodies will slaughter the bison, butcher him, and discuss their actions with high-minded intentionality. They will not rush.
Ellen Kennelly (a frequent participant at the Pitchfork) and I recently discussed the importance of getting ahead of the media on these issues by attempting to preempt predictably uncritical coverage. Any reporter covering this event, for example, should understand that Allan Savory’s colleagues have seriously questioned his research. They should also know that there are ethical implications to killing a sentient animal for the purposes of entertainment and culinary indulgence. Fast food or slow, these issues should be addressed, or at least fall on the media radar. In an important respect, there’s a reason that thousands of people will gather to witness the slaughter of a bison and not question the act: a lack of knowledge.
To that end, Ellen—who is one of those people who is constantly engaging the public on animal issues in the most tactful and effective manner—wrote the following letter to her acquaintances in the Slow Food club. It’s an invitation to discuss the issues that concern animal advocates. Not fight over. Discuss. She also outlined for me the kind of information we should seek to present to those who attend and write about this event. I think it’s all very smart.
The meeting will happen. Slow Food will go on. The bison will die and be eaten. But that doesn’t mean our outrage can’t exist more publicly, in the mainstream media, rather than merely seething in the confines of our little blogs.
I trust you will share this information far and wide.
Yesterday I did an interview with a magazine reporter for a story she was doing on eating local in the Dallas area. My first reaction was to think how incredible it was that this idealistic and ultimately unachievable aspiration—basing our diet on what’s produced locally—was still prime carrion for media vultures. Then, however, I realized that, tired as the topic seems, I appreciated the opportunity to publicly reiterate yet again the most important takeaway from my book Just Food.
And that message is this: while the global food system that we’re inevitably a part of is mind-boggling in its complexity, we can, as individual consumers, simplify it immensely by eliminating all animal products from our diets. That’s it. End of message. For all the headaches that Just Food left me nursing, the chance to make this point—this simple point—and have people respond to it with appreciation, remains deeply gratifying.
The forces of obfuscation, however, can be daunting. We generally tend to think of the industrial food producers as the exclusive source of this calculated confusion. Spew out enough fog, the reasoning goes, and we’ll eat the industrial food cake. Look closely at what’s happening in the world of Slow Food, however, and you’ll find another kind of confusion at work. Basically, in the world of elite eating, nothing is ever good enough, everything can be made more “natural,” and depth of preciousness is endless. When this is the case, culinary elitism prevails.
The cycle of foodie one-up-manship spun with blinding speed last Sunday, when the Times published a piece by Margaret Roach arguing that it’s no longer enough to give ourselves ulcers over how far our food traveled. Real foodies must now also fret about the kinds of seeds that were used (and not GMO vs non-GMO—but something more basic) to grow that food. Remarkably, this warning holds true even if we grow the food ourselves in our own garden. It’s not enough, in other words, to worry about conventional/organic or local/imported or farmer’s market/supermarket or dependent/self-sufficient. Oh no. We now have to furrow our brows over seed quality.
I suppose we can frame any peripheral issue to make it seem central. And perhaps I’m being dismissive over this upping-the-ante of agro-anxiety. But my problem with journalistic fear-mongering over non-GMO seeds is two-fold, both of which bear on the accessibility of our reformist message. First, as I’ve alluded to, only the rarest kind of consumer is going to spend the requisite time researching the endless iterations of these distinctions. When it comes to reaching a critical mass with an important food message, simplicity is a necessity. “Eat plants” is simple and meaningful and inclusive and compassionate. Eat local, organic, shade grown, fair traded, picked by virgins, and now grown with “proper” seeds is confusing, often meaningless, and almost always alienating.
My second point bears directly on this alienation. When foodie fashionistas gain access to the most valuable journalistic real estate to set the bar of culinary behavior even higher, I cannot help but think about Pierre Bourdieu, the French social theorist whose book Distinction brilliantly crystalized the politics of cultural capital. It goes like this: when an agricultural distinction starts to reach the masses, the owners of cultural capital—in this case agricultural capital—sanctify a less attainable distinction in order to maintain their monopoly on cultural power. That’s what I think telling concerned consumers to start worrying about seed quality is all about. That’s what I think slow food is all about.
Tomorrow: book review of The Lucky Ones by Jenny Brown (apologies for saying it would be today)