The Mother of Slow Food
Sustainable, local foods has also been called “Slow Foods.” Now if you call eating that leads to health and wellness, along with healthy living, slow foods, then what do you call a lifestyle that leads to health and wellness and healthy living? Slow living, or as I’ve been promoting it, a Low Density Lifestyle.
Since I’ve been talking about sustainable, local and organic foods for the past week, discussing such things as the White House Organic Garden, and living the life of a Locavore, I thought I’d tell you how sustainable foods has become a movement, and is gaining enough momentum that it is making its way into the mainstream.
After being largely ignored for years by Washington, advocates of organic and locally grown food have found a receptive ear in the White House, which has vowed to encourage a more nutritious and sustainable food supply.
The most vocal booster so far has been the first lady, Michelle Obama, who has emphasized the need for fresh, unprocessed, locally grown food and, as we all know, started work on a White House organic vegetable garden. More surprising are the pronouncements out of the Department of Agriculture, an agency with long and close ties to agribusiness.
In mid-February, Tom Vilsack, the new secretary of agriculture, took a jackhammer to a patch of pavement outside his headquarters to create his own organic “people’s garden.” Two weeks later, the Obama administration named Kathleen Merrigan, an assistant professor at Tufts University and a longtime champion of sustainable agriculture and healthy food, as Mr. Vilsack’s top deputy.
Sustainable-food activists are hoping that such actions are precursors to major changes in the way the federal government oversees the nation’s food supply and farms, changes that could significantly bolster demand for fresh, local and organic products. Already, they have offered plenty of ambitious ideas.
For instance, the celebrity chef Alice Waters recommends that the federal government triple its budget for school lunches to provide youngsters with healthier food. And the author Michael Pollan has called on President Obama to pursue a “reform of the entire food system” by focusing on a Pollan priority: diversified, regional food networks.
Many activists say they are packing their bags and heading to Washington. They are bringing along a copy of the soon-to-released documentary, “Food Inc.,” which includes attacks on the corn lobby and Monsanto, and intend to provide a private screening for Mr. Vilsack and Ms. Merrigan.
“We are so used to being outside the door,” says Walter Robb, co-president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain that played a crucial role in making organic and natural food more mainstream. “We are in the door now.”
AT the heart of the sustainable-food movement is a belief that America has become efficient at producing cheap, abundant food that profits corporations and agribusiness, but is unhealthy and bad for the environment.
The federal government is culpable, the activists say, because it pays farmers billions in subsidies each year for growing grains and soybeans. A result is an abundance of corn and soybeans that provide cheap feed for livestock and inexpensive food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.
They argue that farm policy — and federal dollars — should instead encourage farmers to grow more diverse crops, reward conservation practices and promote local food networks that rely less on fossil fuels for such things as fertilizer and transportation.
Last year, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion, compared with $15 million for programs for organic and local foods, according to the House Appropriations Committee.
But with more awareness of the obesity epidemic, particularly among children, and by concerns about food safety amid seemingly continual outbreaks of tainted supplies, sustainable-food activists and entrepreneurs have convinced more Americans to watch what they eat.
They have encouraged the growth of farmers’ markets and created such a demand for organic, natural and local products that they are now sold at many major grocers, including Wal-Mart.
“Increasingly, companies are looking to reduce the amount of additives,” says Ted Smyth, who retired earlier this year as senior vice president at H. J. Heinz, the food giant. “Consumers are looking for more authentic foods. This trend absolutely has percolated through into mainstream foods.”
And so, the seeds of change are upon us, giving us much to feel good about. Earth Day is upon us, and for a change, the Earth may reap the benefits of more and more people living a Low Density Lifestyle.