This article is from Issue 52: July/Aug 2011

Slow, Local, Sustainable

The ethical food movement is changing how we eat.

In an episode of the comedy Portlandia, a man and woman grill their server about the chicken they intend to order. She tells them the chicken (whose
name is Colin) was raised locally, fed a diet of “sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts” and he roamed free on four acres of land (though she can’t speak to whether Colin “palled around” with his chicken buddies). The server then hands over the chicken’s “papers”—a form complete with his information and an attached photo.

The segment reveals real questions. With documentaries such as Food, Inc., King Corn, The Future of Food and Fresh fueling the fire, a new way of thinking about food is emerging: some call it agrarianism. Agrarians, standing in opposition to the industrial method of working the earth (chemicals, corporations and combines), position themselves as care- takers of the soil who think not only about capital gains but about manure, earthworms, grass, dirt, sustainability and the future.

WHY NOW?

In the 1930s, the plains from northern Texas into Kansas and Colorado became the “Dust Bowl.” This ecological phenomenon brought dust storms of apocalyptic proportions and was caused by a misunderstanding of the soil and an abuse of the land. Government incentives to settle and farm the region, combined with neglectful farming practices and new technologies, left the landscape scorched, dry and virtually uninhabitable.

The fear is that again, in our time, government policies and subsidies, combined with heedless technophilia and industrial business models, have depleted the soil and reduced agriculture to Dust Bowl-styled dollar signs.

Joel Salatin, the farmer from Virginia made famous by the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh, speaks of the con- flict between industrialism and nature. “New virulent dis- eases, soil loss, immune dysfunction, high energy costs, pathogenicity and compromised nutrients all indicate the failure of the mechanical view toward life,” he says. “As that view tries rescue through irradiation, cloning, trans- genic modification and more toxic chemistry, creation rebels in the form of yet greater maladies: MRSA, C. diff, type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and others. ... The industrial/mechanical view toward life is simply running out of answers.”

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