The basic problem with our system is that it produces food that's too cheap. And that's what Americans have come to expect, that is their main criteria for buying food. Ridge Shin from Hardwick Beef used as an example the slogans of Shaw's Supermarkets ("Good Food Costs Less") and WalMart ("Always Low Prices" - which he interpreted as "Always Somebody Gets Screwed"). This system has resulted in the mass production of food that has become harmful to consumers, damaging to the planet and impossible to sustain. The food producers can't make a living in the current food system without being government subsidized, or our food gets shipped in from South America where workers are paid $5 a day. 60 years ago, Americans spent 22% of their income on food. Today we are spending less than 10%. And that food from 60 years ago? It was food grown close to home, eaten in season. Eating local is not some impossible feat - its how people have lived and thrived for centuries! In our self-indulgent modern society, we've gotten far too used to having everything we want at any time. And its killing us and killing our planet. We're spending less than ever on food, but yet we're fatter than ever and spending more than any other country on our healthcare. Our food system is broken and its killing us.
Yes, buying local and naturally raised and grown food is often more expensive, but that's not because the food producers are trying to make a big buck. We heard from all the panelists that they are not making money, they're just getting by. You're paying more for food because it was actually raised and grown by a person, not a machine. A person who is paying attention what happens to your food, who cares about what you're putting in your body. A person who is making a fair wage for their work. Cheap food doesn't only hurt the person eating it , but it also hurts the person producing the food because they can't make a living off of it.
I find some hope in forums like this, where people who see that we have a problem get together and discuss how to fix it. The panelists were all shining examples of people who are making a local food system work, and providing that food to our community. The tide is definitely changing. There is so much information out there about the problems with our food system. More farms are being started, more people are shopping at farmer's market and joining CSAs, more restaurants and chefs are cooking with local products. But what I find so frustrating is that it seems like for every person who is making an effort to eat outside of our messed up food system, there are about 10 who have heard all the information about how broken the system is and just don't care. They still want their cheap food.
The reality is, even though people lived off local diets for thousands of years, food habits are hard to change and a eating strictly local diet is not easy. I try very hard at it and its pretty rare that I eat a 100% local meal. We eat mainly local eggs and dairy and try to eat local produce. Its easy in the summer when we get our CSA, but 6 to 7 months out of the year there just aren't as many options in New England. And there's so much more that goes into our food that you don't always think about whether its local or not. Flour, sugar, coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, grains - do you know where all of that is coming from? I took a good look in my pantry and realized I did not. I was very excited to post a seasonal, local rhubarb compote recipe today, then realized I had no idea where the sucanat and ginger came from that I added to the rhubarb. Or the pecans and almonds that I sprinkled on top for serving. Very likely they did not come from New England. But thinking more about it, you can make this with local maple syrup or honey and skip the ginger. It will still be delcious. There are solutions if we take the time to look for them.
Here's where I've come around to - all we can do is our best. We just need to pay attention and think about what we eat. We need to ask, where did this come from? We can all do a better job of that, but we can't beat ourselves (or anyone else) up about it. We need to educate ourselves, our children and our friends. Some people will care and some people won't, but we have to keep talking, keep trying, and keep supporting our farmers!
So, with a little bit of guilt and a lot of deliciousness, enjoy some rhubarb.
Rhubarb is a great Spring treat, a lovely preamble to the sweet, luscious berries and stone fruits of the summer.
Be careful of those fingers!
Spicy grated ginger is a great compliment to the tart rhubarb, but as I mentioned you can leave it out. I love it and am contemplating whether I can grow it on my patio.
Rhubarb Ginger Compote
8 large stalks rhubarb, sliced 1/2" thick
1/2 cup water
1/2 - 3/4 sucanat, honey, maple syrup or sugar (more or less to taste)
1/2" - 1" piece of peeled ginger, finely grated (more or less to taste)
- Combine all indregients in a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low simmer.
- Cook until rhubarb has sofented and started to break down, and mixture is thick. Taste as you go and add more sugar or ginger if you like.
- Serve warm over ice cream, or chill and spoon over yogurt for breakfast.