Monday, March 24, 2008

Too Much Anxiety

Because I read a lot of blogs on food and occasionally write a related one myself, just about every day I learn about someone anxiously trying to make intelligent decisions about what food to feed him or herself and family. Buy local? Organic? Grass-Fed? Vegan? What is my carbon footprint?

I am personally thrilled that this conversation is taking place and believe it will eventually lead to a more balanced playing field, resulting in better tasting, better quality, even personalized food for consumers, recognition and more equitable financial rewards for top-notch producers, and a cleaner environment.

What troubles me is the tone I see emerging from all sides of the debate, a sometimes subtle and sometimes overt air of self-righteousness or moral superiority.

Most of us are pretty new at this and many haven’t yet entered the discussion. People need to feel safe while they learn and make decisions. Plus, there is so much information about food and health, much of it conflicting or emphasized at the the expense of others by one group or another to support their own bias.

Let’s cut people a little slack and act as mentors to each other rather than critics. Transparency and courtesy are a great place to start.

Jay from TheLinkery in San Diego set a perfect example in his response, titled "The Opposite of Universal" to a blog by the founder of WoolyPigs, farmer Heath Putnam, in a blog titled "The Opposite of Universal." Heath had expressed a few counterpoints to the local food movement that proved relatively, er, unpopular. In short, he expressed disappointment that his hand-crafted heritage pork had been turned away from some restaurants or markets because it wasn't deemed "local" enough (he is from Washington, he speaks of some restauranteurs in California).

In my view, what's inane is eating raspberries from California in Toronto and then seeing raspberries from Toronto for sale in California later the same week. Jay takes the conversation to a new level by providing a definition of local that transcends geography and instead supports the idea that eating local means eating food that "comes from somewhere, that introduces you to someone." I like that kind of thinking.

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