October 08, 2009

Food for Thought: Visit Your Food

Timothy Egan has a nice opinion piece on the NYT site right now about the importance of knowing where our food comes from and avoiding factory-produced "food products." He paints a beautiful picture of Washington's Yakima Valley and the produce grown there, including: cherries, peppers, apples, pears, grapes, and hops.

Egan's argument is something of a standard right now in food writing: we need to recognize "mystery burgers" made in a warehouse somewhere from parts that we couldn't spell, for example, not just as yucky but as legitimately dangerous. He cites the case of Stephanie Smith, paralyzed as a result of E. coli that was in a Cargill burger she ate in 2007.

Egan is good to point out that the bounty of the Yakima Valley is composed of nearly all non-native plant species. If you're looking to eat only species native to the United States, you've got the crab apple and not much more. Regardless, he says, these lab-hatched apples "look like Christmas tree ornaments, wearing a blush of dew at first light." (English teacher alert.)

The bottom line to Egan's article, I believe, is that humans are still hungry for "food that has a story behind it." Food that, in its natural state, can prompt people to wax poetic. Food that you can pick off a tree and eat right then.

I like the way Egan concludes:

...as consumers follow Michael Pollan's advice to get to know our food producers, we will learn to see the processed burger and the industrial vegetables for what they are — cheap global commodities that carry some risk.

The best antidote for such a thing is to see, touch and experience food as it comes off the fields. As imperfect as this harvest picture is, it satisfies a need that has never bred out of us as people.

Why is it fun to go apple-picking, or pumpkin-picking, or strawberry-picking, in this, our age of virtual everything? Because the food is real, and it's in our hands, and we are actually visiting it at home. So go out! Visit your food, people! It's apple season!

1 comment:

  1. http://www.grist.org/article/2009-10-08-apples-with-a-sense-of-place/

    thought you might be interested in this article on native apple species!

    Also, my Chesapeake Bay Foundation internship is dealing almost exclusively with re-establishing native plant species, so more info nuggets will follow