Food evangelism

I am only ever a reluctantly optimistic person, so I post this nervously. But I am seeing a real increase in the amount and sophistication of reporting on food-supply issues in the media. A year ago, I was not sure whether the Times or the Post had ever heard of sustainability. Today, in a special Small Business section of the Times Business section, there is a terrific and long piece, “Why Roots Matter More,” on the importance of “local” in people’s food purchasing decisions. There is an amusing bit about “food evangelists” which I sheepishly admit to being — but if this is the result, I shall go on preaching!

According to the article, restaurants — even low price-point ones — are catching on to the idea that, at least on the East and West Coasts, folks are interested in sustainably raised foods. Apparently a recent Zagat’s survey found that 3/4 of West Coast respondents and over half of those on the East Coast said they’d pay more for sustainably raised foods. I thought Americans wouldn’t ever pay more for anything! Seriously, though, this is such a tired old saw — used to support the idea that Walmart is a necessary evil, among other sins against humanity — and I don’t think it’s true. Americans may not like paying more, but when we see what the truth is about the food we eat — the food that makes us — it starts to seem like food should be a little higher on the spending ladder than it is.

Patrick and I just spent some time in Michigan visiting my mom, and despite the fact that I was frustrated by a couple of restaurant experiences, I have to say that even in the great Mid-West, good food is getting more available. In Ann Arbor we had fabulous and largely sustainable and even regionally grown meats and other goodies at Zingerman’s. (A place so wonderful as to make Patrick want to take another long drive in a car!) And we also found succor at a pricey, but high-quality place called “Papa Joe’s,” that sells lots and lots of generally organic and sustainable prepared foods, as well as wine and fancy edibles.

Another important trend Patrick noted from the article is that even national or regional companies are finding ways to go local. Whole Foods is one example, in their positive response to prodding about their exclusion of local producers. Another mentioned is Bon Appétit, a company out of Palo Alto that runs cafeterias and cafés around the country for museums and corporate campuses. They have changed their business model from centralized planning to giving more control to chefs at each location, with an imperative to source at least 20% of the food locally. This is an amazing trend, and a critical one as we move forward. Most of the institutions we have in place to manage our food production and distribution as a society are regional, national, or international in scale. The companies in this article are forging a model for how these larger entities can re-localize.

Combined with the amazing efforts of truly local and small-scale producers it makes me start — start — to think we might find a way out of the mess we’re in.

This entry was posted in Eat Local Challenge 2006, Food., Homesteading., Restaurants., Sustainability.. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Food evangelism

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  2. Jeff says:

    I wonder if the spike in oil prices during this past spring and summer (and resulting increases in the cost to transport food) has anything to do with local foods becoming more mainstream.

  3. mary mcguire says:

    thanks for posting this. this year two of my nieces sourced most of thanksgiving locally through the farm market, and that included two heritage turkeys. I wouldn’t say that the midwest is bursting with knowledge about sourcing locally but through the first week of december, I’ve been able to purchase very good local lettuces and spinach and didn’t have to even think about valleys in far off states that aren’t as safe as we thought. mary

  4. pyewacket says:

    Yes, I’ve noticed this, too. My mother has started shopping at the farmers’ markets,
    I can still get local apples and pears at a small local grocery store. My most conservative friends know what a CSA is. Things are looking up.

  5. Lori S. says:

    Hi Holly,

    Not sure if Patrick might remember me or not, but we met when he lived in SF. I ran across this blog a couple months ago and I’ve been reading intermittently ever since, since you two and I have some food interests in common as well.

    I didn’t know you had family in Michigan — where? I’m from East Lansing originally.

  6. Patrick says:

    hi lori, yes I remember you! glad to hear you’ve enjoyed our blog. Holly’s family is from the Detroit area and it is interesting you would mention it, because her mom is in the process of seeking out sustainably raised meat in her area, and, it sounds like, succeeding at finding some good sources.

    do you have any online presence w/r/t your food interests? let us know if so. best – patrick

  7. Holly says:

    Hi Lori,

    Yeah, I’m from a good many places in southeastern Michigan. My mom is currently living way out on the east side, and my dad lives in Detroit. My mom has been quite engaged by the whole sustainable food issue, and was recently energized about the meat issue by this editorial in the Times, Pig Out. So she’s committed to no more pork unless it’s sustainably and humanely raised. Makes me very happy!


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