Quick Hit: Shark-Fu on Nutrition and Privilege

Shark-Fu has a great post over at Feministing about a 60 Minutes interview with Alice Waters, “the mother of slow food.” Overall, the interview is quite good, save a little of the expected obesity epidemic blathering, and the following. When Waters is asked about the often exorbitant price of organic food, she responds:

We make decisions everyday about what we’re going to eat… And some people want to buy Nike shoes – two pairs, and other people want to eat Bronx grapes, and nourish themselves. I pay a little extra, but this is what I want to do.

Shark-Fu: “Blink.”

Also: 

When I started teaching life skill classes at a transitional housing shelter for homeless pregnant teens in St. Louis Missouri, I quickly realized that many of my students could teach a master class on making a dollar stretch. A good place to witness their resourcefulness was in the kitchen – trust me, making $160 in food assistance last a month takes serious skill.

With the help of a nutritionist residents came up with quick, healthy and affordable meals that could be frozen and heated up later. They eventually put all their recipes together in a cookbook that I still use today.

What they didn’t do was weigh their nutrition against the joy of shoe shopping.

Shark-Fu focuses on the blatant class aspect here (“Promoting healthy food is a must-try recipe, but folks should skip that extra tablespoon of privilege if they want it to nourish the masses”), but I also want to make explicit what she only implies: that the “two pairs of Nikes” thing is racist, as well as classist bullshit. “Poor white people spend all their money on fancy gym shoes instead of bills and nutritious food” is not a big meme among right wing assholes. Poor black people, on the other hand? Hey, that sounds familiar. 

My point isn’t to trash Waters, who — as Shark-Fu also points out — does a lot of good work trying to increase the availability of fresh, nutritious food for everyone. But that statement had more than one extra tablespoon of privilege in the mix, and that’s without even getting into the idea that people are choosing not to “nourish themselves” properly, a thought process that almost inevitably leads to “people choose to be fat.”  Man, I hate articles like this, where someone is saying so many good things, then blows it with something completely ignorant. Sigh.

207 thoughts on “Quick Hit: Shark-Fu on Nutrition and Privilege

  1. Not only is it one of those awful, classist, racist, privileged statements, it’s also just so fucking judgmental.

    “Nourishing yourself” isn’t simply about food. And if people are choosing to buy Nikes instead of what she deems to be acceptable foodstuffs, that doesn’t make their choice wrong. It just makes it their choice.

  2. Ummm…. Alice, honey, the biggest thing standing between poor folks and healthy food is transportation. Lots of people in the inner city and rural poverty areas don’t have a car, and the nearest place to get food might be a party or drug store–not a lot of organic food going on there. But Waters has always struck me as a little oblivious. Like the campaign to “eat local” and fresh all the time is great, if you live in California, but not possible or a good idea if you live in a place that doesn’t have fresh, local fruits and veggies 12 months of the year.

  3. On what objective grounds can one say that healthy food is more important than a spare pair of Nikes? Nothing has any worth in and of itself; something gains value by it’s ability to satisfy purely subjective human desires, and so if someone judges shoes to be more valuable than a diet upgrade when spending their own money on themselves, nobody can contradict them.

  4. I can’t stand Alice Waters. I find her annoyingly condescending.

    And I say this as someone who isn’t poor/hasn’t ever been poor, eating the Alice Waters way isn’t necessarily possible/desireable for everyone anyway. I enjoy shopping at Whole Foods, but I don’t have the time/energy to schlep to a farmer’s market a few times a week to get produce. Not to mention the fact that I enjoy being able to eat foods out of season (mmm…watermelon in the middle of winter).

    And the thing that really irks me is how unsubstantiated the whole thing is. Her “movement” seems to rely on eliciting a knee-jerk reaction from people that says organic is good and everything else is bad without elaborating on that idea at all. It seems to me that a lot of fat hatred/shaming comes from a simular thought patterns where people jump to the assumption that fat is bad, while thin is good/healthy/virtuous.

  5. How dare you choose a Slurpee over 100% organic juice? Only those who can afford both the Slurpee *and* the juice have the right to choose the Slurpee.
    I hate this bullshit. People who have money don’t always spend it in optimal ways, either–it’s just that they have enough to make it “okay.” Then, they pass judgment on people with less money who simply want to enjoy similar “nonessential” purchases. Beth, I love the point that “nourishment” means many different things. Treating yourself to something you don’t really “need” can make you happy, nonetheless.

  6. My biggest objection to this argument is that it assumes that you can afford those nikes -or- the healthy food, not acknowledging that maybe you can afford neither.

  7. Sheesh. I prioritise ethical shopping over, um, almost every other thing to do with spending money, but it seems pretty fucking clear to me that I can do this because I’m basically rich.

  8. Alice Waters can afford the grapes AND the sneakers. Completely clueless comment.

    But in reading the comments over at Sharkfu, I am sometimes surprised at how angry people get about others wanting to eat organic food. I admit, it is a priority for me, when I can afford it. I try to save money by joining a CSA and growing a garden, and I know not everyone else can afford it or has the time or what have you. But that seems like even more of a reason for me to do it – to support people who are bringing this different experience with food and where it fits in our lives. I hope that demand will increase the market and lead to lower prices and more access for everyone.

    But mostly, I can’t point to definitive studies or proof, it just feels right to me. Why isn’t that enough for people? Why do people care so much about what makes sense to me and my body? I don’t get how threatened people seem to feel about the word organic or about what I choose to eat. Is it the sense that it’s just a way for the upper class to feel superior? Is it class warfare?

    (BTW, I’m not upper class. I work for very little at a small nonprofit, but I have lots of time off, a big yard, no kids)

  9. Sticky – I have no problem with you choosing to eat organic. If it makes you happy, then its the right choice for you.

    My problem is with people who equate organic with ncessarily being healthier and then go on to talk about how eating the normal grocery store produce is going to KILL YOU!!!! OMG!

    I have a general issue with anyone who is preachy about something and then tells you that unless you live how they tell you to live, some terrible misfortune will befall you, and it’ll be YOUR OWN FAULT because you didn’t listen. The parallels between that kind of rhetoric and fat shaming seem pretty compelling to me.

  10. I too find Alice Waters incredibly condescending, in every interview I’ve ever seen or heard.

    I also keep waiting for someone to point out that you know, we tried “eating local;” it was called SUBSISTENCE FARMING and it does not necessarily make sense for anyone who doesn’t live in a place California! It’s a GOOD thing we can bring watermelon in out of season, for example. Now, does it have to have pesticides and crap all up in it? Maybe not. But come on, “eat local?” Like Sticky, I’m glad for you if it’s your choice, but I’m also glad we’ve evolved beyond having to do that.

  11. @sticky – Organic is the new low-fat!

    There’s nothing wrong with buying organic, or from a local farmer’s market!

    Unfortunately it’s really become a very big moral *label*, where morals and money and attention to those details matter in these days where health is seen as goodness.I’ve heard more and more, as a reaction to illness, people shocked because they were “doing it all right”. Especially with “but we’ve watched our weight!” and second runner up is “but we eat organic food!”

    I think food has often been used to denote tribe, too. Or cultural background. There’s something happening with tribe, here; ‘I eat mainly organic’, as a label, seems to be saying something the same way ‘I listen to the Smiths’ did in high school.

  12. Fay, I totally agree with you. I think a lot of the time (especially in the health/food industry) things become faddish as people pick up on them.

    Its like preservatives…a lot of people will talk about how BAD preservatives are for you and how eating fresh food is just SOOO much better for you. The fact is, 1) not all preservatives are terrifying chemicals that are going to kill you and 2) the ability to preserve food is one of the greatest technological advances in the span of human existance. Imagine NOT being able to preserve food and then come back to me and start preaching about how preservatives are going to ZOMGG kill me.

    Sorry for the tangent; the economist in me has no other outlet for these types of discussions about pragmatic, mundane economic issues.

  13. God, what rubbish. I’m convinced that most nutritionists live in some white-washed upper class urban fantasy world in which tofu and soy milk is available at every corner store, and even those who wish to eat out have access to trendy bistros filled with organic salads.

    I’ve lived a great many places, and unless you live somewhere with a population of over a million, things like salad greens are totally unavailable or at least a half hour away by car, and marked up. Urban privilege for the win!

    Then, of course, nutritionists assume that you have the time and energy to visit five different over-priced grocers for organic non-packaged foods, and then the additional time to cook them. As someone who works and goes to school, and who was raised by a single mom, sometimes the only choice we had if we wanted food before she drove us to extracurriculars was to drive through somewhere. Last time I checked, you can’t get anything organic or tasty or nutritious through a drive-through. Time and wealth priviledge for an additional win!

    The assumption that people even have disposable income to spend on stupid overpriced shoes, and they aren’t using it to adhere to their arbitrary food “trends” (I take a dim view of most nutritionists, who are typically diet pushing shrills who have vapors at the thought of the “Obesity Crisis”), just blows my mind. Seriously, when I grew up in a working class family (we didn’t even fall into the category of “poor” yet, in that we still had enough money for the necessities, but not lavish vacations) we had neither the time, energy, or will to cook every day. Considering that my mother’s work is demeaning, repetitive, and exhausting (working class work typically is, because you don’t have the clout to negotiate pay or benefits) the expectation of her, or anybody in that situation, to put on a happy housewife face and throw together a three course meal boggles the mind. We never had the time to lurk the mall and buy stupid overpriced consumer goods. The only people who did was the classes that actually did have access to the trendy organic foods, good low-stress jobs, and disposable time and income to do so.

    I have no idea where this idiotic meme that poor people spend all their money on consumer crap comes from. Anyone with a working class background who grew up chasing after the more privileged can tell you that they neither have the time nor energy to even give a damn about trends. And if they do, so what? So poor people aren’t allowed to spend their money however they please? They have to meet the upper class arbitrary expectations of nutrition but they can’t use what little disposable time and income they have for their own enjoyment? That reminds me of my very critical grandmother, who always looked down on my mother and gave her the third degree whenever she took us to places like Disney Land as children on credit because she “didn’t have the money” to do so. The expectation was that poor people are lazy superficial and stupid, and thus should not have any access to fun things, which cost money, and are therefore miserable and fat because of their own failings. People literally expect us to have twice the time and energy of more well-off people, and then have a happy upbeat attitude even as they pelt us with dehumanizing garbage.

    Sorry for that rant, but classism bugs the ever-living shit out of me. Nutritionists and the upper class white food policing and constant examination of the spending habits of the lower classes smacks of so much hypocrisy and priviledge that it’s sickening.

  14. Tribal eating vs. tribal music-consumption! Heh. I wonder if there’s some correlation?

    Do Iggy Pop fans of old chow Cheetos unabashedly in their 30s? Was Tori Amos fandom an indication of later predilection for tofu?

    I was full goth, and it was coffee and cigarettes until I started feeling creaky… So, will old high-school Goths die before old school Metal-heads, (and will they care?)

  15. Jenn –

    I’d love to show you an economic model we learned about in college that basically showed that giving poor people cash instead of food stamps made them better off/happier (and was also cheaper for the government), but the main reason policy makers won’t make the change is because of the need to police how the poor spend their money. I’m not taking a particular stance on the issue, but it kind of blew my mind and was in the same vein as your post.

  16. My biggest objection to this argument is that it assumes that you can afford those nikes -or- the healthy food, not acknowledging that maybe you can afford neither.

    Amen, Melissa. I’ve recently become interested in a certain way of eating (not going to say what, since it’s really beside the point and I don’t want to sound like I’m evangelizing it.) It has a lot of evidence for being extremely good for you, but is also fairly expensive. I’ve seen a few blog posts talking about how to make it as affordable as possible, which always end with some variation on, “But really, it all comes down to priorities. Do you really need to fly first-class on your vacation this year? Do you really need the extended package for your satellite TV?” I want to scream, “What if I’m not taking a vacation at all? What if I can’t afford the most basic satellite TV?”

    It always comes down to some underlying assumption that you must be keeping yourself poor (I guess like you must be keeping yourself fat). You must be blowing your money on something if you don’t have any spare cash. There’s never any consideration to what you do when you’ve already cut yourself down to the bare essentials and STILL can’t pay for those. It’s like that Target Women thing: “Don’t drink that much soda? Go fuck yourself!”

  17. “‘I eat mainly organic’, as a label, seems to be saying something the same way ‘I listen to the Smiths’ did in high school.”

    SOOO true. :\

    Maybe a little off-topic(?), but http://thisiswhyyourethin.blogspot.com/ is an entire blog that, with just its name + premise, alienates fat people who are healthy. It’s a response to thisiswhyyourefat.com. It frustrates me to no end when people equate vegan with thin (the woman from VeganLunchBox.blogspot.com started this project, and the pictures of food in the new blog are all vegan, I think) AND thin with healthy.

  18. I hope I can delurk on this wonderful blog to jump in about class and food.

    I live in a poor neighborhood (I have a perfectly adequate income for a carless, childless left-wing activist, but not a large income by any means). This “poor [implicitly black] people buying Nikes rather than organic food” thing is not only racist and classist, it’s also clueless about poverty. I don’t see people around here wearing Nikes. They’re wearing shoes from the thrift store, from Target, from discount places. They’re making crap wages and wearing tee-shirts and Wal-mart pants. Maybe a pair of Nikes for Christmas, yeah, but if I were really genuinely poor and had a kid who wanted some nice shoes just for once, I’d move heaven and earth to get them, and screw Alice Waters.

    Honestly, I’m starting to reconsider the co-op, because we’ve got a wage freeze on at my job, prices are going up and I’ve found that all I can afford anymore is beans and rice and beans and grits and maybe some tofu and lentils and a little frozen spinach. Can’t swing the fresh produce anymore, Alice.

    And has ol’ Alice ever even worn cheap shoes? Cheap shoes hurt. Cheap shoes deform your feet and make your ankles bleed. Cheap clothes tear and fade and shrink. Cheap coats don’t keep you warm. (Shop at the thrift store? Yeah, well, if every poor person was chasing that one nice wool coat down at Saver’s, well, you fill it in. Thrift shopping works precisely because not everyone does it.) There is nothing wrong with wanting a pair of shoes that fits your feet and lasts okay.

    Why should we have a society where some people can have nice shoes and tasty food and interesting work and fun vacations and money left over while other people have to choose and choose and choose all the damn time and still don’t get much out of it? That’s the real problem.

  19. I’m having trouble scraping together $5 to buy a new pair of the same crappy shoes that are destroying my feet now. Alice Waters can go eff right off. My choices are between “nourishing myself” and housing myself, keeping my husband employed, and affording transportation to food and his employment. Its a 2 hour walk (both ways) to the nearest grocery store, or a $6 bus ride (which also takes 2-3 hours to complete).

    I’m ticked off at the grocery store going “organic” because there are no real meaningful standards for organic food yet. As far as I know, everything came from the same manufacturing plant, the same item, but some of it is priced $1.50 more. Sometimes the organic option is the only option, meaning that we can’t afford to buy that particular food. Instead of being able to plan meals a week in advance and buy in bulk, if we run into an organic-only food on the list we have to scrap one of the menu options entirely which can cost us more money!

    We “nourish ourselves” enough to stay alive, sometimes robbing from the rent fund or the transportation fund and feeling very guilty about it. Sometimes “nourishing ourselves” means eating stale cookies that my husband’s job was going to throw away and wishing we had real food in the house.

    I wish I had my old Nikes still ($15 at an outlet store, so there!) so I could walk more. I used to be able to make it to that grocery store 2 hours away, back when my shoes actually supported my feet.

  20. Word, Melissa.

    I live in Orlando, FL, and fresh fruit and veg pretty much exists year round. But access? Hell no. It doesn’t matter where you live – the poor parts of town are not exactly equipped with farmer’s markets, ffs.

  21. Whoa… Ellie, I had never thought of it that way but I internalize the “keeping myself poor” thing so much! I’m not poor but I have convinced myself that everything I buy is frivolous and unnecessary, and I don’t work hard enough, so I should have more money (just like everything I eat is superfluous and bad and I should be thin).

  22. That is so fucking unacceptably racist and classist it makes me want to drink turpentine and piss on a brushfire. Maybe Ms. Waters would just give us a list of things we should all prioritize, and in order, to make sure that we’re all as much like her as possible. Except then she wouldn’t have anyone to be superior to. Well, good thing plenty of people couldn’t possibly live according to the exact same list of priorities as Ms. Waters, or she might have to just be eating what she eats because she happens to like it AND THEN WHERE WE WOULD WE BE? I swear, food purity is the new sexual purity — heavily gendered, and fodder for leering paranoid upper-class white supremacist fantasies about “those people.”

  23. I’d love to show you an economic model we learned about in college that basically showed that giving poor people cash instead of food stamps made them better off/happier (and was also cheaper for the government), but the main reason policy makers won’t make the change is because of the need to police how the poor spend their money. I’m not taking a particular stance on the issue, but it kind of blew my mind and was in the same vein as your post.

    Oh Jeebus, if they’d given us cash when we were on assistance we could have splurged on things like soap! Do you know how hard it is to go to your family and ask if they’ve got an extra bar of soap or tube of toothpaste? At the very least, couldn’t they extend food stamps to cover basic hygiene items? What, are they afraid we’ll actually feel human or something?

  24. Thank you! The 60 minutes interview has been bugging me since I saw it. I really do like the idea of eating more locally grown food, but FFS, I do not live in southern CA with a 12-month growing season! I live in Edmonton, where the growing season is May to September, in a good year. What grows locally at -40C, with 6 hours of daylight, in January? Please tell me. I try to buy as local as I can, but since I don’t want to be relegated to eating only rice and beans this time of year, you better believe I’m buying imported fruits and veggies. (And hmmm…. come to think of it, I don’t think either rice or beans are grown in this province…. )

    And I do recognize that I’m lucky to have the luxury of having the ability to get to a supermarket with quality produce and the luxury of choosing whether or not to buy organic. A lot of folks don’t have that luxury.

  25. Frowner, this is excellent: And has ol’ Alice ever even worn cheap shoes? Cheap shoes hurt. Cheap shoes deform your feet and make your ankles bleed.

    It made me think how easily these things can be turned around. Imagine if tomorrow Natural Holistic Podiatry were suddenly extremely trendy, and something people focused on and moralized as much as Natural Eating. You’d have all these people clicking their tongues and moaning about those silly women/people of color/poor people spending their money on fancy produce when everyone knows it’s *possible* to live on ramen, bologna and cereal… AND NEGLECTING THEIR FEET THAT HAVE TO CARRY THEM AROUND FOR LIFE O THE HUMANITY!! Because of course you CAN afford a set of podiatrically-correct $150 shoes, you just CHOOSE NOT TO!! And people would be yammering on about the American Bunion Epidemic and how it shows what a shallow unsatisfactory people we have become.

  26. Sometimes when I’m feeling all smug about fat politics, being so proud of myself about not caring about weight or calories, about being totally HAES, I take a long hard look at myself and realize I have just turned my FOOD IS MORALITY OMG from being about fat to being about eating locally. All that energy other people spend on counting calories, I spend on reading labels for co-op ownership, fair trade, or local farms. All that smugness other people have about eating low-fat I have about shopping at the farmer’s market. I don’t think I realized how bad I had gotten into why read some Michael Pollan, started thinking he was a smug SOB, and simultaneously recognized so much of myself in him.

    I would just like food to be about enjoyment, you know? And sustenance?

  27. I’d love to show you an economic model we learned about in college that basically showed that giving poor people cash instead of food stamps made them better off/happier (and was also cheaper for the government), but the main reason policy makers won’t make the change is because of the need to police how the poor spend their money.

    …and because they can’t spend it on agricultural items, so dear to the agricultural lobbyists.

  28. Somewhat related: I heard Paco Underhill on Talk of the Nation the other day when the topic was “shopping during a recession.” People were talking about worthwhile if fairly predictable economizing strategies: coupon clipping, thrift shopping, etc. But then the question was raised: Will the Recession Make Us Return To The (Allegedly) Frugal Values of Yore? And Underhill said something like: “I think a lot of us are waking up and realizing that our homes are too big, our cars are too big, our bellies are too big…”

    And that was when I turned off the radio.

  29. And on the class/race front:

    I live in an area where there are pockets of upper-middle-class/young professional housing, pockets of townie, and several projects. In three different directions, we are a five-minute drive from one of several large, national organic markets. In the hub of the wheel made by those three different directions, there are two projects framing a discount supermarket.

    Recently, in an online community for the area, somebody brought up the question of “wouldn’t it be great if the discount supermarket turned into a Trader Joe’s?” (One of the aforementioned organic markets five minutes away is a Trader Joe’s.) When it was pointed out that the discount supermarket serves two different apartment projects as well as a generally less privileged pocket of housing, the hostility in the online community was overwhelming. People insisted that the discount market wasn’t any cheaper and didn’t carry anything people wanted anyway. Which is true, maybe, if you are going there to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and organic produce. But it sure as hell isn’t true for milk.

  30. Thanks everyone for giving me new things to think about. Go, Jenn! I grew up in a blue collar family where both my parents worked. Yeah, we ate a lot of frozen fish sticks and box mac and cheese and healthier stuff sometimes too, but you know times were tough. I spent years blaming my weight issues (and everything else, it was my post-adolescence) on them for “feeding me wrong,” before I got a clue.

    I hate, hate, hate the idea that organic eating or eating transfat or eating at all has become such a moral issue. On that level, I’m a failure at eating too because I don’t eat everything organic or local or anything. (Plus I’m fat which must mean I’m lying or doing it wrong.) I do what I can, when I can, because I want to. What others eat is their business. We’re all trying things out, doing our best, following one path but not another. Cool with me.

    For what it’s worth, most of the local farmers I’ve met and fellow organic gardeners have been very open minded, compassionate and into ideas about social justice. I’ve no doubt jerks exist, but Alice Waters does not speak for all of us.

  31. Just finished reading Barry Glassner’s “the gospel of food” which is a really, really good book. He gets a LOT of it right, including the politics surrounding organic, local, and slow food. I recommend it, highly. His section on the obesity epipanic is spot on.

  32. Do Iggy Pop fans of old chow Cheetos unabashedly in their 30s?

    Our *30s*?! Fuck no! I’m about in the low-middle age cohort for old school punk, and I’m a few weeks shy of 51!

    I’ve never liked Cheetos, but I do sometimes unabashedly chow down on cracklings or jelly doughnuts. That’ll have to do.

  33. Slightly off and on topic – I hear you, Kate, on the “good thing gone bad”. I was listening to WPR while driving the other morning, and a woman was talking about her book “The Social Cause Diet”, which is about looking for satisfaction in doing for others rather than focusing all of your energy inward. She talked about the overwhelming amount of time it takes to diet (counting calories/points/obsessing endlessly over what one puts in their mouth). You know, I could kind of get into that – volunteering and helping others in all the spare time left from not dieting. Ok. But then it turned into this whole “we have to stop going to food for comfort/focusing on food is selfish/fatties are bad bad bad” thing. I just turned it off.

  34. “Like the campaign to “eat local” and fresh all the time is great, if you live in California, but not possible or a good idea if you live in a place that doesn’t have fresh, local fruits and veggies 12 months of the year.”

    Oh but that means you’re not doing it right. You’re supposed to learn to take pleasure, nay delight, in your winter spent eating kale, cabbage and beets. Don’t like kale, cabbage or beets? F*** you! You just don’t like the right things!

    Seriously, some out of season produce is so bad it’s just not worth it (peaches and strawberries come to mind) but if I never bought a tomato all winter and spring? I’d fucking snap. And for me and a lot of other people, eating local would mean no bananas, avocadoes or citrus EVER. No thanks.

  35. Ugh, Alice Waters is so annoying. I actually do pretty much eat the way she wants everyone to, other than consuming a lot of omg totally not organic chocolate, and she still makes me want to kick something.

    I think it’s really easy for people who live in the Bay Area to forget how damn lucky we are. If you live here and have a decent income it’s EASY to eat organic, horomone-free etc. There are 3 different sources of organic produce and meat within about a 15 minute walk of my house. To feel smug about your “good choices” compared to people who live in places that don’t offer that kind of array of options is just silly.

    Not to mention that Waters’ whole attitude is really offputting. I live about 30 minutes drive away from Chez Panisse, and yet even during the loads-of-money dotcom era I hardly ever ate there because honestly, the food isn’t that great (and at that price there’s really no excuse for it not to be amazing). Plus the whole idea that you don’t get to choose what you’re going to eat annoys me – even with a “whatever was freshest and best at the market that morning” philosophy it should be possible to offer several options, plenty of restaurants with a similar philosophy manage to do it…but then they’re not run by Alice Waters, who thinks she’s knows what’s best for everyone.

    Also agreed with Arwen – this shit is all about identity markers and identifying oneself to one’s “tribe”. Example – eating, say, a traditional Chinese or Arab diet is just as healthy as what Waters advocated, but doesn’t bring the same social cachet. The whole thing revolves around snob appeal. If everyone could actually eat that way it would lose all it’s snob appeal and hardly anyone would care except genuine gourmands.

  36. Also, even here in Healthy Food Fetish Central poor people don’t shop at Whole Foods. There’s a reason it’s colloquially known as Whole Paycheck. Just like anywhere else, poor people shop at stores where they can actually afford to buy stuff, and it’s not because they’re spending all their money on sneakers, it’s because how the hell do you pay organic prices on a minimum wage budget?

    Why, oh why, won’t poor people listen to Alice? Clearly they should just walk around barefoot so that they can buy organic spinach, or perhaps make their own shoes from the organic hemp that they would be able to afford if they just budgeted properly.

  37. Eucritta, sorry sorry. I’m in my 30s, and we loved the old school punk, but y’all would represent the STUDY COHORT vis a vis CHEETOS EATING. *laughing*

    Also, seriously for fuck sakes.

    People spending the money on Nikes rather than organic are usually young people, and if someone’s spending their late teens investing their shit-wage retail dollars or holiday money on organic food then we’re in BIG TROUBLE, PEOPLE.

    I really understand the cries of frustration regarding “we can’t afford Nikes OR organic”, but I also grew up very poor and spent money, at times, on a Nike equivalent. And some people in my neighbourhood growing up threw $2- a week at the lottery – oooh, the middle class had something to say about that. (In fact, I shouldn’t get me started, because I have more rants about people calling the lottery the idiot tax than a dog has fleas.)

    Or beer. Or pets. Or music. Or whatever small goals (like Nikes) or indulgences made the days worth living, and which were used as proof that poverty wasn’t or you were insufficiently attentive to how much you didn’t count as someone allowed Real Choice.

    I didn’t put all of my money into organics – or education, which in Canada may have made a difference, and is where I’d ACTUALLY suggest working class kids put a bit of their money instead of Nikes, if they had a mind to…. but not in the states, because for crying the fuck out loud you’ve got tuition so unreasonable it makes my teeth hurt.

    I put it into pool halls and beer and smokes, into tapes/cds and black eyeliner. And that didn’t add up to much money, since it was before taxes on smokes got so high, but it was more than sitting in an empty apartment with nothing to do but eat my organic grapes and pick my goddamned ass.

    Poor people get to have lives. They get to have tribes, and tribal identity, and tribal markers. Even if they can, (very occasionally) buy Nikes, once a year Nikes ($120) does not carry the same cost as organics every week.

    Poor economics means sometimes there’s windfall – like a tax return or a bonus – and so Nikes come. Or more often, debt repayment. But whatever.

    A buck and a half more every week on organic milk, is a buck and a half less on other groceries, which is not the same as $120 once.

  38. “I’ve lived a great many places, and unless you live somewhere with a population of over a million, things like salad greens are totally unavailable or at least a half hour away by car, and marked up. Urban privilege for the win!”

    What?

  39. I’m all for people eating organic, local, whatever if they can. I can, and I do it. I get Spud deliveries (highly recommended if they’re in your area, BTW) every other week, and I love them. And you cannot keep me OUT of the farmer’s market when the cherries and the peaches are in season. OMG.

    But for cat’s sake, we cannot move everyone to agriculturally-rich areas. We just can’t do it, any more than we can move everyone to the few “walkable” areas that exist in and near cities. Do people really think eating roadkill and berries and nothing else is “healthy” because it’s “local”? Or that we “owe it to society” to have such meager diets? Come ON.

    Sure, more walkable areas and gardens can be created where it’s agriculturally and logistically possible, but blaming the lack of them on people buying Nikes (as opposed to, hello, lacking reliable transportation and time to garden and chop and cook veggies every day) is just…yeah, racist dogwhistle does leap to mind. (And it’s not any less racist when Oprah Winfrey says shit like that, either.) Those dumb swarthy working-class people and their bling, we can’t take them anywhere! Why can’t we get classy people to clean our saltwater pools?

    And only someone who doesn’t know or has blissfully forgotten what it’s like to have to spend 10 or 12 hours a day on her feet without letup (Alice, I am sure of it, gets to sit down whenever she wants to for as long as she wants to) would complain about people spending real money on shoes. And really, two pairs of Nikes every month? Who the hell does that, unless they are in a profession where they absolutely shred their shoes? Earth to Alice: “Sell the iPod and buy organic” works for one month max, assuming you could even get more than $50 for a used iPod in the first place.

  40. Can I just say:
    I hate the idea that I’m somehow a bad person for choosing, say, entertainment over food. I’m glad she’s increasing the availability of healthful food, but I am not going to feel bad that I would rather buy a new movie or video game over expensive produce. The whole healthier-than-thou attitude needs to stop. She would still have a point even if she didn’t imply that people who like Nike shoes (and is anyone else getting a bit of a racist vibe from that?) are irresponsible morons.

  41. Maybe a little off-topic(?), but http://thisiswhyyourethin.blogspot.com/ is an entire blog that, with just its name + premise, alienates fat people who are healthy.

    I saw that blog linked earlier today and have been stewing over it all day. I think it’s the blase acceptance of this is what thin people do and what fat people don’t do as if it’s an absolute truth. Thin and don’t do those things? Fat and do? Fuck you.

    I was, however, heartened by the number of people calling this out in the comments there and on the non-fa blog where I saw this linked. (Though the non-FA blogger locked all the comments and got annoyed with people for being snippy, but still. Have to start somewhere.)

  42. I’m glad we can have the conversation, though. And I prefer the OP take: Alice Waters clearly has an overdose of blind privilege, but that doesn’t mean her message is totally unsound. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, especially when you can make it into a delicious donut.

    The politics of food *are* pretty screwed up. Agribusiness has been busy reducing the genetic diversity of our food crops and animals for decades. Food aid in the US seems to be about subsidising big business for the excess corn and soy produced, rather than about nutrition.

    I don’t care very much about organic, but I am a big fan of eating locally. I think it’s only ecologically sensible not to waste fuel on transporting food across oceans and continents. I’d encourage anyone who can afford it to take that green step. If you are in a place where you have to ship in your food, simply try to pick from closer rather than further.

    And for sanity’s sake, make it “mostly”, not “always”. My main exceptions are spices and fairtrade coffee. If you really want winter watermelon or tomatoes, that can be your exception. And FFS don’t get obsessive and preachy and moral about it, and especially not to those who can’t afford it!

  43. Hey, Alice Waters!

    You know how I “nourish” myself? I buy the cheapest, budget store-brand of EVERYTHING that I can – rice, pasta, vegetables (mostly frozen, except onions etc). I buy meat for my household by checking the reduced going-off-today stock and freezing it. I carefully budget so that I can buy herbs and spices, and something called “olive pomace oil” which is my compromise – basically it’s oil crushed from the pulpy remains of olives after all the “good” oil has been extracted and is dirt cheap. Also I grow as much of my own vegetables as I can on my 5-foot square patch of concrete outside my home.

    Every month, I make sure I have a stock of dried beans, flour and other cheap, long-lasting items so that, when I run out of money 10 days before payday, I can make bread and simple stews to eat, instead of starving. I budget this carefully, and spend a small amount discretionally on the luxury of an internet connection. And I still often find that the electric meter runs out of credit 2-3 days before payday, and have to keep running into debt with the water board.

    If I get a little windfall of money, it goes towards savings so I can buy bitdhay and crimbo present for my nieces and cousins, and feel like I’m not so poor I can’t even do that. Or it pays a bit more of the debt I am in – debt that I got in, BTW, not by using up credit cards on shite, Alice, but because when you are £10 short one month and have to go over, you are £20 short the next month. And £30 short the month after that.

    Nikes? Fuck – I get my shoes for £5 from a local cheapy shop and just put up with them wearing out to nothing in about 3 months.

    Although, I suppose if I wasn’t so damn big-chested I wouldn’t have to spend real money on bras, and my chest size is obviously all my own fault, so I guess you’ve got me there, woman!

    Gah, sorry. I get really pissed off with people like this – especially when I’m having a shitty budget month. I’m not normally this cranky about money!

  44. Love your comment, A Sarah! We are so weirdly selective about the things we focus on as “good for us” and therefore practically gospel. What’s next–the quality of our iPod headphones?

    There’s obviously a ridiculous amount of privilege-blindness going on in Alice Waters’ statements, and I think one way it’s manifesting is that she’s forgetting who can hear her. I know that sounds stupid, since she’s giving a publicly accessible interview, but I’d be willing to bet that when she thinks of her audience, she starts with an image of herself and her friends, and then broadens it…slightly. So in her mind, everyone who hears her is mostly like her, maybe a little different but certainly not those poor black people who buy teh nikes. She remembers they exist, of course, or she wouldn’t be referencing them, but there couldn’t be any of those listening, could there?

    Unfortunately, the confession that accompanies my snarkiness is that this is a tendency I’ve noticed in myself, particularly in more anonymous communities like this one where I don’t know anything about people up-front and it’s easy to slip into baseless assumptions (as Alice Waters is probably doing with her public). I tend to assume that most people I interact with online are a lot like me in certain ways (race, class, politics, education) and then I end up having a moment of surprise and “duh!” when someone leaves a comment that clearly shows they are not. This is a stupid tendency–or maybe “thoughtless” is a better word. There is never a good reason for me to be surprised, because there was never a good reason for me to assume any of these things about anyone in the first place. But my brain is stupid; it likes baseless assumptions. I’m working on it. Maybe that can be Alice Waters’ next project.

  45. What I notice here is that someone mentions someone who has said something or other then everyone lines up to slam them, whatever the something might have been.

  46. Alice Waters’ comment reminded me of Oprah’s reply when asked why she decided to build a school in South Africa instead of a poor inner city in the US. That the kids in those cities basically didn’t deserve one because they were too concerned with expensive sneakers instead of education. Man, that turned me cold. In having her years of wealth and prominent status, she forgot what it was like to grow up poor and made classist and racist assumptions about urban children. Very disheartening, and no different from Alice Waters’ assumptions about poor people and being too stupid or materialistic to care about nutrition. If she knew about food stamp policies, or families that had to rely on church pantries and federal food programs to feed themselves, they’re lucky if they get fruit and vegetables.

    Which leads me to a non-profit organization called Angel Food Ministries: http://www.angelfoodministries.com/

    While it is faith-based, this organization does not care what religion you practice or don’t practice, or how much money you have. For $30, you get a food box for a family of four, and you can purchase additional special boxes starting at $21 which include a fruit and veggie box, a gluten-free box, and various meats. They even have prepackaged meals for senior citizens. They also take food stamps. We use them at work, and several homeless clients use their food stamps to buy boxes. They do a menu every month. I have purchased from them, and have been satisfied with what I’ve received.

  47. I agree strongly with Carla. I think organic food is great for people that enjoy it, but whether or not it is healthier for you is an open question.

    Moreover, one thing that is unsettling is that often people who advocate organic food come off as thinking that all synthesized chemicals in food are terrible for you. While I think we need to be very skeptical of what’s in our food, and that pesticides should be studied to understand their effects, I want to stress that taking this view to the extreme is quasi-religious. The usage of pesticides increased the yield of crops massively, preventing famine and malnutrition that would’ve significantly decreased the quality of life of people during their youth. Thus, consider that, even if pesticides increased the incidence of cancer somewhat (and this is simply a conjecture), they could’ve been a net benefit to society, since cancer often afflicts people as they grow older (whether they’ve consumed carcinogenic substances or not, I should add).

    In any case, with regards to the question: what do people have against organic food? I have nothing against organic food. I think people should be able to buy food from all sorts of different sources if it’s important to them. However, when thinking of organic food as a public health issue, it must come under increased scrutiny. If organic crops are shown to be significantly more healthy than then the crops that are grown with pesticides, the government should consider subsidizing it.

    However, if it’s not, then the government should spend money on other public health measures that are more important. At that point, organic food should be regarded as a discretionary purchase, like a cup of latte–it’s good for people that enjoy it, but it’s not any better than buying anything else that someone may enjoy.

    The important thing is, when considering organic food, to not proceed under the vague notion that “chemicals are bad, and therefore crops grown without chemicals are good”. It’s effects on health have to be regarded skeptically and studied.

  48. One thing that really bothers me about the way some people portray the whole organic, locally grown food movement is they don’t seem to recognize that for some of us, recovering from eating disorders, having a whole new list of rules of what I should and shouldn’t eat is incredibly triggering.

    A lot of times advocates like Alice Waters make me feel like a bad person because I guess I could afford to buy all organic foods, but I don’t want to. Because I spent way too much time in the past obsessing over what to eat and it feels so amazing to walk into the grocery store and just pick up food without feeling like what I’m buying makes me a good or bad person. Plus, I like saving the money that I would have spent on organic foods and other such goods so that in the next couple of years, I might have enough for a down payment on a house.

    I guess sometimes I feel like when people critcize the food police types, the main criticism is that some people can’t afford to follow the food police rules and that therefore it’s okay for them not to follow those rules, but if you do have the money, then you’re a terrible person for deciding to buy regular food instead of organic.

    Sometimes I just want people like that to say it’s okay, ou can have different priorities than us and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

    I don’t know if any of that made sense; this topic has been in my head for a while and this is the first time I’ve actually tried to put those feelings down on paper.

  49. What I notice here is that someone mentions someone who has said something or other then everyone lines up to slam them, whatever the something might have been.

    Yep, that’s often how it works, when the comments in question are outrageously offensive. Do you have anything to add to the discussion, or are you just here to tell me my blog sucks? Read the comments policy before answering.

  50. This post is hitting right on the mark with something I experienced today. My mom, who is disabled and gets a meager $700 a month in social security, went to apply for a program that helps low-income families pay their electric bills. She spent most of the time listening to a “helpful” lecture on how you can lower your bills by installing weatherstripping and “cooking most of your meals in the microwave”. I wasn’t there, but it all sounded very privileged and victim-blaming. The basic message seems to be, “Well, we might help you out, but it’s totally your fault for running up your bills SO HIGH and not living like the Amish. You are poor and thus deserve a lower standard of living than everyone else.” Also, my mom’s Sunday school class came over and brought us some food – which was wonderful and sweet of them. BUT they took it upon themselves to sit my mom down and “show her how to do a budget.” Because OBVIOUSLY the reason she is poor is that she cannot handle second-grade math, not because, you know, she gets $700 a month.

    I have an off-topic question for you tonight, Shapelings, and if this has been answered before (and it probably has) then you can just link me to wherever that is. But what do you do when a good friend comes to you, all proud and excited to tell you that they’ve lost weight? My best friend just did this and I had no idea what to say. I feel like I’m compromising my principles (not to mention outright lying) if I congratulate weight loss; on the other hand, I don’t want to come across as a pretentious ivory-tower kind of person (especially as an inbetweenie) who values political positions over my friend’s feelings. I ended up saying something to the effect that “if that makes you happy, then I’m happy”, but it felt lame and forced and I think I sort of let her down somehow.

  51. About half the time when someone mentions Alice Waters, I think they’re talking about Alice Walker. So when I started reading this post I thought: What. What?! Phew.

    I think there are many middle class folks who do have more flexibility in their budgets to prioritize nutritious foods over, say, consumer goods. But, as others have already pointed out here, that’s their choice. Maybe a comfy couch and a nice TV is just as valuable to some people as organic butternut squash soup is to Alice Waters.

  52. Jazzy

    In terms of the how-to-deal with your friend’s weight loss, I’d just give an unemphasized “That’s great” (with a smile) and move on. If your friends want to lose weight, thats their prereogative, and as a friend, you should be happy/upbeat about your friend reaching her goal, even if it isn’t something you agree with. In this case, I think the normal rules of ettiquite apply; grin and bear it and quickly move on to the next topic.

    If the friend starts blathering on about their diet, or getting into something thats triggering for you, or starts preaching or whatever, I think thats the point when you can step in and make a bolder statement.

  53. Good point, keshmeshi. While I think Waters’ comment was worded in a way that was really obnoxious (i.e. it was crypto-racist and was basically suggesting that some people spend their discretionary money badly), the point is valid, but perhaps to a greater extent than she would like it to be.

    While some people can neither afford the sneakers nor the organic food, many people have some discretionary income. I just want to stress how valid a point it is that there are so many good, thoughtful, downright sensible ways for someone to spend their money that aren’t tantamount to taking your money and torching it. I actually like your example. Instead of investing in organic foods, some people will buy cheaper foods for a period of time, and then use the savings to invest in a durable good (like a couch, or some shoes (gasp!)), that will improve their lives for a sustained period of time. To think, even people who are pressed for cash may want to spend their money on a piece of technology or furniture that will greatly enhance their lives. The horror! ; )

    Btw, if given the choice between eating organic vegetables and the shoes, I’d take the two pairs of shoes (if they came in my size, which is a big if). Good shoes are important.

  54. Poor people get to have lives. They get to have tribes, and tribal identity, and tribal markers. Even if they can, (very occasionally) buy Nikes, once a year Nikes ($120) does not carry the same cost as organics every week.

    Poor economics means sometimes there’s windfall – like a tax return or a bonus – and so Nikes come.

    A-FUCKING-MEN, Arwen. I am so, so, so tired of middle- and upper-class people snotting over how poor people “will just spend all their money on [shoes/DVDs/junk food/liquor/drugs/whatever]” and using this as justification for why poor people don’t deserve any help. I recently had a coworker tell me – not two minutes after complaining that “Obama is socialist”, mind you – that he believes people who get any government assistance should be subject to random drug tests, the implication being that we have to monitor people on welfare or social security to make sure they’re spending their money “right”, and if they dare spend it on anything other than food and basic utilities, the aid should be taken away.

    I’ve also been treated like dirt for choosing not to work while I’m in college (believe it or not, we DO make our $700 a month stretch to cover everything – the extra help right now is because it’s property tax time), even though this is a choice many, many college students make. Somehow, the fact that my parents aren’t shelling out thousands of dollars for me to live on campus means that I should also be working full-time. You have not experienced real confusion until you’ve been called lazy and selfish for choosing to do 20 hours a week of volunteer work rather than have a job.

  55. My biggest gripe with the slow foodies, the localvores, the organic fanatics, et al, is the way in which through their snobbery, purism, and obsessiveness, they suck the joy out of something that could be a lot of fun and really enjoyable. I can’t even watch Alton Brown because the way the guy gets his panties in a wad about the difference between kohl rabi and bok choy makes good cooking seem more like Leviticus than an exercise in sensuality.

  56. Uh, I realize that post might have been a little confusing since I mentioned coworkers and not working in the same post. The coworker was from a job I just quit because I mentally and physically could no longer do it – something else people seem to have a double-standard for: if you’re poor, you should happily accept any job, even if it’s one you’re not capable of handling. If you’re middle-class, you can pick and choose. While some people certainly do HAVE to take any work they can get in order to pay the bills, that does not mean quitting a job is EVIL SIN. Americans seem to have lost sight of the fact that a job is something you do for yourself and your family, not a moral obligation. But that is a rant for another day.

  57. ‘One thing that really bothers me about the way some people portray the whole organic, locally grown food movement is they don’t seem to recognize that for some of us, recovering from eating disorders, having a whole new list of rules of what I should and shouldn’t eat is incredibly triggering.’

    (Sorry, don’t know how to do italics. HTML major fail)

    I know exactly where Madeline’s coming from. It happens depressingly often that I’ll be stood in the supermarket thinking ‘What shall I get for dinner? I should get some fruit, but that comes from the other side of the world in a plane, or maybe I’ll have some chicken, but that’s too expensive, or I could just have some chips and bread, but then I’m not eating right etc etc etc’.

    More than once I’ve ended up walking out without getting anything at all, thinking ‘since when did getting something for dinner get so damn difficult?’

    There’s a lot wrong with the way a lot of our food is produced, packaged and sold to us, but we can’t fix it by adding yet more food prohibitions to the long list many of us are already carrying around in our heads.

  58. I like to eat locally produced foods and to support fair trade concerns. I find that food with as few steps as possible between the producer and the consumer generally tastes better to me. I prefer to eat a minimum of added chemicals and hormones in my food. I feel better in both body and mind when I can manage this.

    OTOH, if there’s one thing I will not compromise on, it’s that I will not buy cheap shoes. I have balance problems and a tendency toward bunions and twisted ankles. Flimsy shoes are no savings for me.

    There have been a couple times in my life when I’ve spent a lot more than I could comfortably afford on footwear…but those handmade tapestry boots have more than made up their price in savings on at least a dozen pairs of cheap shoes and the corresponding injuries to my feet over the course of the nine years I’ve been wearing the hell out of them. I’m hard on my shoes, too.

    Besides, as much as I love farm-fresh organic veggies and free-range chicken eggs, I’m not above enjoying a plate of frozen pizza rolls, either.

    Sometimes in life you have to prioritize. Sometimes we have different priorities. Different priorities are not necessarily less valid. After all, who am I to argue with Madeline’s priority of recovering from her ED? Who is Alice Waters to question my priority of foot/ankle health? And who the hell expects Jazzy’s mother to make local and organic a priority on seven hundred freaking dollars a month????

    Assuming that those who choose not to make local and organic a priority do so because they are frivolous or stupid completely ignores the fact that many people are not in a position to choose that particular priority, and that some people understand the question perfectly well and have the option, but prefer to worry about something else instead.

    I’ve made my choices. Others must make their choices according not only to their belief systems and specific needs, but according to their resources, as well.

  59. Yeah. I gave up organic foods and extreme amounts of fresh produce (I make a lot of casseroles) so I could save up enough money to get married. And now so we can buy a car without having to increase our monthly payments.

    And for me and a lot of other people, eating local would mean no bananas, avocadoes or citrus EVER. No thanks.

    And no coffee, since to my knowledge, none of it is grown in the continental US.

    LilahMorgan, I saw that too, and was pretty heartened by the comments — everyone seemed to be trying to disabuse the OP of the notion that thin = healthy = vegan.

  60. I just want to toss out a meaningless but heartfelt virtual hug to everyone here who is struggling financially. I’ve been that poor, I know how it feels, and it sucks. I’ve lived in my car. I’ve gone without heat so we could have water. I’ve fed my kids beans and rice and prayed to whatever deity would listen that it would be enough. So you all have my love and best wishes and if you’re ever in Pittsburgh, stop over and I’ll fix you a good meal.

  61. People spending the money on Nikes rather than organic are usually young people, and if someone’s spending their late teens investing their shit-wage retail dollars or holiday money on organic food then we’re in BIG TROUBLE, PEOPLE.

    Yeah, Arwen, no shit. The “anyone who isn’t at least comfortably middle class should scrimp and save” gang doesn’t even stop to think of what would happen to our entire global economy if everyone followed their instructions.

  62. Alice, honey, the biggest thing standing between poor folks and healthy food is transportation

    The city I live in has two main grocery stores. One in the suburbs where the wealthy folk live, one downtown where poorer people live. Both are part of the same chain. They’re 7.5 km apart in location. The difference between the food carried there is huge. The one in the suburbs has a big produce section, with a small organic subsection. The one downtown has a tiny produce section that consists mainly of iceberg lettuce. Needless to say, no organics. The one in the suburbs has a big section of fresh fish. In the one downtown I saw fish heads. The meat section in in the suburbs had a big selection of lean meat (as well as cheaper fattier meats). The meat section downtown consisted mainly of fatty pork.

    This is the same chain, in the same city. But the people living in the poorer area do not have the same access to fresh organic food as the people in the suburbs.

  63. And for me and a lot of other people, eating local would mean no bananas, avocados or citrus EVER. No thanks.

    I think I’d die without avocados. Most of them come from California, but when I was in Florida you could get them from downstate sometimes. The selection up here in Ohio isn’t great, but it’s usually worth it to look at them when you go to the market because you luck out sometimes. At $1.50 a pop at the worst, sometimes it’s cheaper than any other thing I crave.

  64. I swear, food purity is the new sexual purity — heavily gendered, and fodder for leering paranoid upper-class white supremacist fantasies about “those people.”

    I believe A Sarah pretty much nails it to the wall here. With the exception of pointing out the irony of the agricultural lobbies’ ceaseless attempts to bend the “100% organic” label to include more and differently-pesticided and genetically-modified foods, I have nothing to add.

  65. And Underhill said something like: “I think a lot of us are waking up and realizing that our homes are too big, our cars are too big, our bellies are too big…”

    There is also a theory that the relentless bashing of the latter is due in some part to subsumed Calvinistic guilt over the former.

    Since those in said guilt-ridden demographic can tend to be Jimmy Choo- as opposed to Nike-shod, it’s only a theory, though.
    *smirks*

  66. There ARE many fine reasons to eat organic, but there are also other legitimate decisions that may be drawn from the information available.
    For instance,
    I had always heard that organic farming killed more small animals than ‘conventional’ farming, the rather reasonable explanation being that the chemicals keep the wildlife away.
    However, I did have this fact unpleasantly hammered home with the discovery of a very dead frog with its head nearly severed in a bunch or organic kale from an expensive store.
    So actually, I generally prefer not to buy organic.

  67. However, I did have this fact unpleasantly hammered home with the discovery of a very dead frog with its head nearly severed in a bunch or organic kale from an expensive store.

    Fuck me. I WOULD DIE.

  68. ((Madeline)) I totally hear you. I think it’s generally a positive thing to eat locally and healthfully, but attach too much guilt to it, and it’s little better than obsessing over calories.

  69. Just as a caveat to those that have found my rant enlightened rather than absurd: I’m not even poor. I’m just a working class girl who’s lived both in a very rural area (thus my rant about “urban priviledge”) and a very urban area (think 10 million+ people). My family income has never broken 40K, but we’ve never been on food stamps. As someone who falls a bit, not much, under the average income, I shudder to think how much classism genuinely poor people have thrown at them. Granted, I couldn’t study abroad and had to work in high school if I wanted to hang out with friends on the weekends, but I can still go to college and eat out occasionally. There’s a huge portion of the population, probably like 45%, below me in income that doesn’t have that privilege.

    I totally also hear you all about the availability of healthy food. At this point, organic is so absurdly expensive that I’m happy with just healthy: you know, produce. When I lived in Central Phoenix (not the nicest area in the country, really high crime FYI), I couldn’t get actual salad greens (not iceberg lettuce) to save my life. I didn’t have a car, and this was before our city’s public transportation, so my eating out choices were five different McDonalds, a Wendy’s, or a Chinese place that was nearly as greasy as fast food. Plus, this is Phoenix people. Nothing grows there. It’s a desert, duh. Local? Doesn’t exist. Or at least it didn’t when I lived there.

    I then moved to a very rural town. Really rural. More cows and horses per mile than people, and my family boosted the population by 5% when we moved there. I’m not joking. I am lactose intolerant, and if I wanted soy milk, I had to drive 40+ miles. Salad greens? Grow them yourself or you’re SOL (not terribly feasible, because this was Texas, and the ground was too rocky for agriculture, but just green enough for cows). Plenty of local food, but not much else. I went years without a speck of milk or milk substitutes because of how stupid it was to drive that far for them. Also, when the majority of your neighbors live in houses over 100 years old or trailers, there really isn’t a huge demand for an organic market. The closest packaged food was a gas station, a 20 minute drive away. If the river into the neighborhood flooded, it was 2 hours away.

    When you’re a white rich suburban person in a very liberal city with a healthy ecosystem outside of it (not a freaking desert), eating organic and local is feasible. But for people to pretend that everyone ought to eat this way, or has the time to, they have to be fucking kidding. Do they realize how rare they are? I’d gather that at least 80+% of the American population does not have access, by location, time or money, to that kind of lifestyle.

    So when people posit this as the norm, I want them to try living in rural Texas, than attempt urban Phoenix without a car. They can do this at the upper working class background I came from, or they can do it at the genuinely poor background that others have… where they have to have food stamps (my family never even came close to qualifying).

  70. The eat local/eat organic message is very loud at the moment here in Britain, but we have the advantage that you can’t actually go more than a few miles without running into a large supermarket. I guess it says a lot about my own privilege that I’ve never yet lived anywhere that I couldn’t access fresh [if not entirely local] produce. The very concept is a little hard for me to imagine.

    On the other hand, what she’s saying is still bull, even when applied to this little island. The reason? If I wanted to live on cake and pizza, I could buy a weeks worth for practically small change. Trying to eat even a vaguely balanced diet costs about three times as much as buying pizza and sticky buns, and that’s not buying organic or special shiny anything. For that price, I could actually buy a complete a-z multivitamin and chug that down with my pizza and coke and still be better off financially.

    And people wonder why students have such a reputation for living on junk when they leave home.

  71. Plus, this is Phoenix people. Nothing grows there. It’s a desert, duh. Local? Doesn’t exist. Or at least it didn’t when I lived there.

    Cactus! It’s what’s for dinner! And hey, you can fry eggs on the sidewalk there, so that totally saves electricity! (I used to live in Phoenix, too. You actually CAN fry eggs on the sidewalk between May and September. During that time of the year, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., you do NOT go outdoors, unless you’re getting right into the pool with a t-shirt on over your suit.)

    I lived in an apartment building with a Safeway right behind it. (And a Pei Wei — I used to love that place, I wonder if they’re still any good.) Saved my bacon back when X and I had to share one car. And you’re right about the salad greens. Also, what is up with the tap water there? I used to joke that it was so hard that you could make ice cubes without a freezer.

    But yeah, Phoenix is one of those cities (Las Vegas is another) that lives or dies on air conditioning and lots of shit being delivered on planes. So what does the Waters/Pollan axis suggest people do there — mass evacuation? To where, pray tell?

  72. I live in Britain and we’ve just cancelled our organic veg-box (which we bought because we wanted to support local farmers and small businesses not the supermarkets and so on) because we are so frigging bored with eating swede and carrots and nothing else. Because, guess what! In England in winter, you can’t grow much else.

    So we’ve gone back to the revolutionary concept of not buying organic or local and eating peppers and other yummy things.

    Which, yes, brings up other problems and we are incredibly lucky (and it is luck, nothing else) that means we can afford to make these choices, but EVEN middle-class reasonably comfortably-off people have perfectly good reasons for not eating organic food.

  73. I buy meat for my household by checking the reduced going-off-today stock and freezing it.

    So you can freeze stuff that’s going off that day? I’d wondered about that before — our local supermarket occasionally has meat products in the reduced section that I’d like to use, but not that day, and I’ve never known if it was safe to freeze stuff on the “use by” date. And cheaper meat would make my budgeting a lot easier.

  74. My only reason for buying local produce is to help keep our local economy afloat! Ive always thought that if i could, i should buy locally because i LIVE IN A FARMING AREA and those people are more important to me than the supermarket chains, than the fancy schmancy chain resturant/cafes and shops. I have a local deli shop which i adore. but its also very expensive. I would buy my share of local ham and cheese every time i needed it if it wasnt £5 (or more) a go for an amount that lasts my husband and I maybe 3 days at the most. However, my eggs are cheap. I spend 80p a half dozen on local as they can get, free range eggs. The same thing in the supermarket would cost me double. add organic into that and we’re nearing £2!

    We have a farmers market but its only every 4th friday of the month and most of the time im working so its a no go. Its an awful, awful shame. I long for a permanent, undercover fresh produce market. we did have one. before our whole towns economy collapsed. So even in a farming area, buying local is STILL not as easy as it should be, unless you have a car and time to source your food from the actual farms and not rely on sellers in town. (i might add im from the UK)

    I also grew up in a family home that was pretty much scraping by with regards to food. It always angered my parents when people who earnt twice as much as my father complained that they couldnt afford anything (people quoted in papers for things like tax hikes etc etc, never the richest but never anywhere near the poverty line either) because they were ‘poor’ even with the annual holidays abroad, social evenings out either at resturants or to local attractions, enough money to buy their kids decent shoes and clothes once in a while. It strikes me that a lot of people think that ‘poor’ is when you have enough money to do most things but not quite enough to live in luxury. i.e NO CLUE.

    sorry. im ranting. and not at you.

  75. [i]So you can freeze stuff that’s going off that day? I’d wondered about that before — our local supermarket occasionally has meat products in the reduced section that I’d like to use, but not that day, and I’ve never known if it was safe to freeze stuff on the “use by” date. And cheaper meat would make my budgeting a lot easier.[/i]

    It is perfectly possible, but be careful with it. Ive had a few portions of meat smell foul just after defrosting. it can be hit or miss. though my biggest aquisition was a 9lb whole fresh salmon for a 1/4 of the price, which i filleted and froze. still got some left and every bite is delicious.

    having said that, buying reduced-price fish is more dangerous than meat.

  76. So when people posit this as the norm, I want them to try living in rural Texas, than attempt urban Phoenix without a car.

    No kidding. I’m in Phoenix I lent my car to my visiting mom and my brother for their road trip this week (they’re back on the weekends) and realized I forgot to go grocery shopping. I probably could manage public transportation to a grocery store and back but it would take quite a bit of time I don’t really have given my work schedule at the moment. Obviously, I’m in a privileged situation, given that I have enough food here to make do and could afford to order a pizza if I really got desperate, but it’s still a good reminder that my normal circumstances are exceptionally privileged.

  77. Whether or not it’s a “big meme among right wing assholes,” the choices of all poor people are critiqued and criticized. It’s possible to talk about the added layer of racism without minimizing the experience of po’ white trash.

    I’m middle class now but came up from serious rural poverty. I ate a lot of “junk” because my dad who was raised in even deeper rural poverty saw fatty, rich, and sweet foods as a huge treat that he could actually afford. Class had more than a little to do with my teenage eating disorder. It was really difficult to see myself as anything more than fat, dirty, and poor because of the way I was treated in school. The fact that I was 5’6″ and 140 pounds as a 4th grader and wearing my unfashionable mother’s 2nd-hand hand-me-downs made me stand out. I’ll spare you the timeline of weight fluctuations but in my mid 20s and 240 lbs, I can finally have a normal relationship with food and am grateful every trip to the grocery store that I can buy what I want, financially and psychologically.

  78. Recently I was involved in a discussion about the local food issue and we started talking about “convenience food” and so forth and someone said, “I don’t understand it. I mean they all have cellphones and giant TVs.” THEY? Who’s “they”? I didn’t know the people in the group well enough to confront the woman who said it, but she went on to say she wouldn’t be caught dead buying her eggs in a supermarket when she can get them from a farm. Great, but what about the single mom living in an apartment, dropping her kid off at daycare and running for the bus to the job she can’t afford to be late to so she can keep her health insurance? Which farm is she getting her eggs from? I’ve since gotten to know these people better and find ways to insert a little reality into the discussions when they get too lyrical.

    I know we now spend less money on food than we did fifty years ago, whatever the statistic is, and Michael Pollan and Alice Waters make this sound like a very sad statement. On the one had it may be, but we also all have other expenses no one had then and, you know, maybe if we asked folks who lived in 1940 how it felt to spend half your income on food they’d say, “Dude, that sucked. And all we ate were potatoes for six months of the year.”

    Has anyone seen the show on PBS where all these well-heeled folks are having dinner on an organic farm somewhere in Sonoma or Napa, and everyone’s all healthy and happy and deeply appreciative toward the dead beasts laid artfully before them while sipping merlot? It makes me want to scream. I wanna see that same scene in a vacant lot in Newark turned into a veggie plot with chickens politely weeding around the kale from behind the chain link. Then again, who the hell has time, or wants to make time to weed?

    I applaud the efforts toward local food and so forth, and am even becoming a sort of fanatic about growing my own, but the class ignorance enrages me. It sometimes makes me draw back from the ideas I’m becoming committed to because of this exact thing. In order to counter that, it’s making me even more determined to combine the issues into some sort of radical vegetable gardening campaign.

  79. I long for a permanent, undercover fresh produce market. we did have one. before our whole towns economy collapsed.

    We have a permanent covered fresh produce and other stuff market where I live:
    http://www.oxford-covered-market.co.uk/
    It’s great (except the veg, which is generally not all that good), but it’s not cheap. It’s also right in the centre of town, so it’s a tourist attraction, and the rents are really high – both of these things make it a very pricey place to do your grocery shopping. Sometimes I buy sausages from the specialist butcher – they’re great but they cost a lot more than Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range, where you often get two packs for £5. The organic butcher is supposed to be very good, but the food is so expensive that I’ve never bought anything from there. And I’m pretty well off.

    I think the thing that annoys me most about the foodier-than-thou thing that’s sprung up recently is that it seems to suggest that you should eat a certain way; you have a duty to do everything you can to eat healthily. Even if you can’t afford it; even if you don’t like it; even if it’s really hard to fit it in (and on that subject, I’d like to see the people who want you to make dinner from freshly-bought organic produce every night fit that in after a long day at the office with no time to go and buy food). There’s all sorts of reasons why people eat the way they do – choice, price, what they feel like eating, convenience – and it’s reductive to suggest that it’s only about their priorities. I’m in favour of local and organic food, but it’s not something that everyone can do all the time.

    I’m really glad so many people have said so well that this kind of thinking makes it all about personal responsibility and fails to look at the systemic reasons why people buy and consume food in the way that they do in the developed world. It’s the great mindtrick of capitalism: corporations employ vast numbers of people whose jobs depend on getting people to behave in a certain way/buy more stuff, yet we are told that everything you do is entirely down to you personally, whether it be how you eat, what you weigh, how much you earn – it’s all your own responsibility, and if you aren’t doing something right that’s all your fault and nothing to do with the way the system functions.

  80. I want to go read Wilder’s “Farmer Boy” now because at least THEY appreciated food. They’d have liked some way to make it easier to get, too, even if it did mean pesticides and patrol fuels.

  81. Also, my problem with organic food (since someone asked upthread) is that it takes far more land than conventional modern farming to produce far less food. That’s delightful if you live next to an organic orchard in Somerset, but in a world with a growing population, hundreds of millions of whom are already underfed and malnourished, how righteous can the likes of Alice Waters really feel about rejecting methods of farming that were hailed as miracles when they first arose because the increase in yield is phenomenal and keeps people alive? This world needs more food, not less, and devoting more land to organic farming won’t help with that.

    (Ever wonder why the Western world doesn’t have famines anymore? It’s not because we’re richer – -the Low Countries in Europe were hugely rich in the Middle Ages and still suffered horribly from famine. It’s because WE CAN GROW MORE FOOD, and protect it better from insects and disease. Why? Industrial farming, which is exactly what the organic movement rejects as horrific and bad for you and rah rah rah. Thanks, but I think being alive is better for me than starving to death. I’ll take it.)

    The sort of attitude Alice Waters is displaying seems to be blind to reality of the rest of Western society who don’t live in her tiny bubble, absolutely, but even more so to those living in developing countries all over the world who just want food, for god’s sake. And devoting more land to organic farming isn’t going to help them. (See also: GM, and people who whinge about GM soya in their food and vandalise trials when GM technology has the potential to save MILLIONS OF LIVES in countries where people can’t AFFORD your privileged “oh, I don’t know, it doesn’t really seem right to me” because THEY’D JUST LIKE TO EAT, THANKS, KEEP YOUR JUDGEMENT TO YOURSELF. We have a limitied amount of arable land in this world and a growing population to feed. What the fuck’s your solution?)

  82. Whether or not it’s a “big meme among right wing assholes,” the choices of all poor people are critiqued and criticized. It’s possible to talk about the added layer of racism without minimizing the experience of po’ white trash.

    How does pointing out that “buying Nikes instead of food” is a racially coded bit of classism equate to minimizing the experience of poor white people? I wasn’t saying there are no right wing asshole memes about poor white people — there are zillions. I was saying this particular one is racist.

  83. As much as I LOVE living in the San Francisco area ( and I do!), I HATE this kind of attitude!!!! Ms. Waters needs to step away from her posh SF and Berkeley neighborhoods and go to other parts of the country. For cryin’ out loud, she doesn’t even have to go far! Just a couple miles east or west (or even north or south!) Open your eyes, Alice!!!!!

  84. Good shoes are essential for exercising (including gardening, people – you want us to grow our own food?). Seriously, ever gone walking in the wrong shoes? Since fat people are supposed to be exercising however many hours a day now, we better have our hands on the most comfy, supportive, well-made shoes out there. (Not Nikes for me – I like New Balance.) As a carless person, I feel this x10, because the buses aren’t always convenient or running or ontime or going where I need them to. As a chef, Alice should know this, too, as being on your feet all day is tough.

    I do think there’s other issues surrounding organic food than health. It’s unclear what the organic vs. conventional yield difference is – it seems to differ radically under different management conditions. Over time, the outside demands needed to sustain conventional farming are horrifying, and require tremendous resources. I’m not convinced that the short term extra produce is matched over the long-term, and that will be especially true if we continue to use the same variety of corn over large regions (making it especially prone to disease). Organic farming (especially large-scale) has tremendous issues as well – water waste, pesticides, etc. I think generally, big farm organic meats and veg are marginally better than conventional big farm meats and veg. These are things that need to be dealt with, but requires education and research – not blaming those that can’t afford baby spinach.

    I completely understand people who don’t eat local/organic. Not everyone is a farmer’s market junkie, or finds value in discovering new and interesting produce, or growing their own. But there are serious issues that are not health related that need to be considered, like the exploitation of workers and environmental effects, animal suffering and preservation of genetic material. Most farms fall short someplace (and many of them lots of places). It would be nice to have a way to discuss that without blaming individual consumers (especially the poor, who have the least access to choice), and without making people feel blamed.

  85. Hi, everyone. This story was my bat-signal of sorts to delurk.

    Ampleproportions, I messed up and clicked the link. I understand that both sites — although polar opposites, equally condescending as all heck — are logic- and death-defyingly full of shit. As such: WHO EATS THIS CRAP?! *headdesk squared*

    A Sarah, right on.

    Where’s the “this is why the food patrol/diet brigade needs to
    STFU” blog? Oh wait, doi: SP is one such blog and thus I stand corrected. Keep up the great work, ladies.

    Thanks for reading. I’ll resume reading your comments now. ;)

  86. Good shoes are essential for exercising (including gardening, people – you want us to grow our own food?). Seriously, ever gone walking in the wrong shoes? Since fat people are supposed to be exercising however many hours a day now, we better have our hands on the most comfy, supportive, well-made shoes out there. (Not Nikes for me – I like New Balance.) As a carless person, I feel this x10, because the buses aren’t always convenient or running or ontime or going where I need them to.

    Yes, Anita, one hundred times this! I think that they just want us to sell our cars, buy cheap shoes, walk 20+ miles to the organic store, walk home, shut up, and hop in our handy Poor Time MachineTM so we have enough time in the day to work too. Because if we complain about the blisters and the lack of time we’re obviously stupid ignorant poor fat slobs and we should be thankful that Waters and her ilk are around to tell us how shameful our lives are!

  87. Poor people have time machines?? Shame on them! They should sell those unnecessary gadgets and spend the money on some organic arugula for teh kids!!

  88. The folks commenting who note that although they’ve coped with tight budgets they’ve never had to use Food Stamps have been lucky. You want to see classism and/or the food police in action, try grocery shopping with Food Stamps. God forbid you should make the mistake of buying name brands instead of generics, deciding to treat your kids to some Oreos, or, horror of horrors, buying a cut of meat other than the absolute cheapest form of ground beef. It’s a little better now because in most places it’s an electronic card (EBT) instead of actual paper Food Stamps, but back when we used them in the 80s, it was immediately obvious to any other customer standing in line behind you that you were on the dole.

    And amen to the comment about the insanity of not allowing Food Stamps to be used for household necessities like toilet paper and soap. Or Tampax.

    BTW, not only do supermarkets stock their shelves differently depending on the neighborhood, they also jack the prices. I’ve got a choice of multiple Krogers where I live in Atlanta — they’re all about the same distance in terms of driving, but in different directions — and the one in the lowest income neighborhood has the lousiest selection on fresh produce and meats accompanied by the highest prices.

  89. “How does pointing out that “buying Nikes instead of food” is a racially coded bit of classism equate to minimizing the experience of poor white people? I wasn’t saying there are no right wing asshole memes about poor white people — there are zillions. I was saying this particular one is racist.”

    After re-reading what you wrote for a third time, I think I finally understand what you mean. “Fancy gym shoes” specifically? I was reading it initially as any luxury thing that you could buy for cheaper if you weren’t being irresponsible- showing off. It’s too easy to forget stereotypes that exist when they’re not a part of your daily consciousness, such as basketball shoes as status symbols.

  90. I think the Sam Vimes “Boots” Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness applies here. It basically states that a rich person will spend $100 on a pair of excellent boots that will then last that person 50 years, while a poor person will buy $10 crappy boots every six months for those same 50 years, spending a total of $1000, and will still have wet feet. And possibly–this part being my own addition–is late with the rent or can’t pay it entirely some months because putting shoes on your feet is necessary right now and more important than possibly getting evicted a ways down the road.

    Being poor means looking at things you need to survive, knowing you can’t afford them, and buying them anyway because what the fuck else are you going to do? And it means that what you get on the food stamps is mostly sodium and high-fructose corn syrup and you know it and you know it’s going to make you feel sick and sluggish all the time because it’s just not good for you but you eat it anyway because the body wants to live. It means looking with a covetous eye upon not just the organic produce, but produce full-stop, because you would just love to have a fresh apple or a handful of berries for once in your life but you can’t afford them if you’re going to have enough food to last until the food stamp card gets refilled.

    There is a misconception among the upper middle and upper classes about what poverty is, about just how poor poor people really are. I have had middle-class friends advise me that they know it’s hard to admit that it’s really that much of an emergency but I should dip into my savings. They cannot imagine the possibility that anyone might not be able to afford savings. Magazines tell me I’m “cheating” myself by not having savings, and that I’m living beyond my means by living paycheck-to-paycheck. Newsflash, financial gurus: I know I’m living beyond my means. Basic survival is beyond my means.

  91. Kaz, I know what you mean – I’m a UK student myself – but I’ve personally found buying basic ingredients, rather than ready meals (like the cakes and pizza!) to be much cheaper. Of course, that does require me to have the time, energy and inclination to cook for myself. And I’m very lucky – I have a greengrocer within walking distance who sells veg cheaper than I can get it in Tescos. It turns out supermarket veg is shockingly expensive in comparison, even from the so-called “low-end” supermarkets.

  92. Also, what slythwolf said. I heartily agree with Sam Vimes’ Boots Theory. Especially when I got to the stage where there were blisters on the soles of my feet because the soles of my shoes had worn that badly.

  93. So you can freeze stuff that’s going off that day? I’d wondered about that before — our local supermarket occasionally has meat products in the reduced section that I’d like to use, but not that day, and I’ve never known if it was safe to freeze stuff on the “use by” date. And cheaper meat would make my budgeting a lot easier.

    Yes, you can. “Sell by” dates are not “will be unfit for human consumption one minute after midnight” dates – in fact, there’s usually a good buffer of time in between those two dates, and freezing substantially lengthens it.

    You can’t keep meat in the freezer forever, but sometimes I have meat in there for months. And it’s still very good when I finally get around to cooking it. Just make sure it’s wrapped well and as airtightly as possible. And use common sense – we didn’t eat the 5 year old turkey I found at the bottom of our chest freezer when we moved (oops).

    Freezing actually improves the flavor and texture of some meats like ham, which is often injected with water. Freezing forces a lot of that moisture out, so the defrosted meat is denser. I bought a ham on clearance after last Easter, froze it, we ate it about a month ago, and it was unbelievably good – so dense and rich-tasting.

    I’m a foodie, and I’ve had the argument in this post on several food sites where some people are *convinced* that if the poor would only *put some effort in to it* they could eat well and cheaply. Where one person was trying to convince me that driving all over the countryside and negotiating directly with the farmers every Saturday was a completely reasonable thing for the rural poor to do.

    And organic grapes will not keep your feet warm and dry when it’s snowing out.

    (I don’t even want to get started on eating locally. I live in CO. I can’t live on nothing but beef 10 months out of the year.)

  94. Slythwolf, this. I’m not sure where the class lines go anymore – I feel poor, but I am not subsistence poor. I’m a good 10 grand above the poverty line, and have no clue how the feds think a family could live comfortably on what I make. I think part of the problem is that I think of myself as poor, because I lack things I’m told middle-class people have. But I also wonder if I may be swinging public opinion of poverty because there’s still such a gap between me and the grinding poverty that’s not discussed much.

    Rachel, I’m not sure what student kitchens are like in the UK, but it also assumes access to kitchenware, an oven, storage space for kitchenware, etc. Even now, I don’t have a cake pan per se, because of storage/use issues. It’s usually cheaper to buy freezer pizza here than make it yourself. Certainly getting a good pizza is cheaper from a restaurant – mine has always come out decidedly odd, due to dough/cheese consistency issues.

  95. Thirding Vimes’ Boots Theory!

    I remember discussing with my mother how people (in the original context, people who were complaining about welfare recipients having even old and nearly-not-running cars) don’t seem to realize how much it costs to be poor. In the city we lived in (my mother’s still there), for a mother of three to get to the grocery store or doctor’s office without a car, it costs minimum $5 round trip (more if the kids are a little older), and most likely at least an extra two hours beyond what the shopping/appointment takes. And that’s not counting lost wages for that 3-5 hours not working. Just an example.

    I’ll never forget the reactions of the members of my women’s studies class (my first semester going back to school) when we watched a documentary about welfare recipients. They were upset that one woman had a TV, and that a young man with severe depression didn’t have a job, and that a couple with kids didn’t just get married (when the father had to live elsewhere for the mother to be eligible for welfare). *headdesk*

    I am constantly fearful of getting back to the situation I was in the year I dropped out of college, when I was skipping meals towards the end of the month to pay rent only a couple of days late. And that’s with ramen as a staple meal.

  96. I’m an organic farmer, and have met Alice Waters (and just attended a kick-ass Michael Pollan talk.) Alice Waters may be undeniably out of touch, elitist, and a complete dreamer, but to her credit, her vision of real food is uncompromising, and she did get people thinking about where food comes from decades ago, and how important it is not to reduce food to mere nutrients. I’m more of a Michael Pollan fan myself.

    Believe me, that those of us in the business of producing real food are painfully aware of the problems of food access for all economic groups, and there’s a lot of researchers and policy makers looking at accessibility problems, and just as many farmers trying to find ways to bring their produce to the city. None of us wants anyone to have to make a choice between shoes and real food, and more than that none of us wants Alice Waters to become the touchstone for hating the need for food that is produced with some measure of care for the environment and for people. It’s a shame that she is getting in the way.

    But Michael Pollan is right: choosing organic and local food is about way more than nutrients. It’s a whole relationship between the eater and the land and the economy. Of the myriad diets that have sustained healthy humans for thousands of years, from vegan to raw whale blubber, the US has managed to create the only diet that is undeniably toxic to us and to the country’s resources. Go us! Nice work!

    Part of the reason cheap food is so cheap is because it’s engineered from government subsidized commodities – mostly corn and soy. There’s no reason it should be so cheap except your tax dollars are paying for the cost. It’s welfare food on all levels.

    The Real Food movement is not about making anyone feel guilty about their food choices – you may FEEL judged, but those of us who are working hard to produce good food are often in the same position of having to make pragmatic economic choices. The movement for real food is more about recognizing that you *do* have a choice…and as a society we are choosing policies and products that lay waste to our farmlands, poision our waters, and destroy our health. And that completely limits the choices we can make as individuals.

    We may not have all the answers for how to create a food system that is safe, accessible to all, and sustainable, but thank god there are people out there like loopy Alice raising the questions and making people aware. And while individuals aren’t to be judged or held accountable for the immense problems in our food system, we *can* be responsible about being aware of the food we eat and the impact our choices have.

    Leaving soapbox now.

  97. Caitlin, your comments about organic growing reveal a lack of understanding of food policy, so here’s what I can clarify:

    You said : that it takes far more land than conventional modern farming to produce far less food.

    Not true. Organic production in most cases is now at or near “conventional” production levels. Women didn’t run marathons nearly as quickly as they do now….took a few years to establish themselves. Organic farming is the same.

    You said: This world needs more food, not less,

    Not true either, distribution is the bigger problem with food access, not amount. The actual calories produced across the globe is plenty to feed everyone with health diets. We need policies that waste less and produce food closer to where the food is eaten.

    You said: WE CAN GROW MORE FOOD, and protect it better from insects and disease.

    Industrial farming is actually causing the rise of pest and disease problems because of monocropping. New organic techniques are easily showing themselves as sustainable, low input and better at long term care of ecosystems. Healthy soil is well-known to be the best preventer of diseases in crops. Pesticides and herbicides kill off soil by taking out the very microbes and and fungi that keep soil alive and healthy.

    I won’t get into the issue with GM, because it’s not my blog. But I don’t like to see myths about food production and organic farming perpetuated without any understanding of the industry.

  98. I know I’ve been absent a lot lately. It’s because I am in a bit of a burned-out place. Many of the more recent posts here, I can’t really come up with any kind of intelligent response to, only nod in agreement.

    This made me sad enough that I decided to point out that I’m nodding in agreement. Just so I can feel like I was part of the discussion.

    I don’t even know what to say. Even in my current state of poverty, I’m steeped in the privilege that comes from having a caring family that were willing and able to take my adult ass back in when work wasn’t panning out for me post-graduation. That enables me to exist in a fairly cushy way despite not having much of an income– I can’t do a lot extra, but I eat well and have a bed to sleep on and didn’t have to break my heart and find new homes for my dog and cat, and I’m still able to enjoy my leisure time.

    Despite my good fortune (or perhaps because of it?), to see people look down on those who aren’t in a circumstance to do what they think they “should” still hits pretty close to a vital spot for me. That’s sad. That’s sad and shows a lack of both compassion and clear sight of how the other half lives.

  99. I had a conversation this weekend containing the sentence “no-one is that poor any more.”

    Which made me so angry I couldn’t really counter it.

  100. Just wait until the next wave of food philosophy hits us. As soon as fancy organic stuff becomes so democratized that Chicken McNuggets are made with hormone-free free range chickens that were humanely offed, coated with panko bread crumbs, fried in fair trade certified canola oil, and served with locally sourced wildflower honey the next wave will hit us.

    Then we’ll get to complain about Food Tubes, available now in original and soylent.

  101. Oh yeah, and poverty does suck.

    The worst part is the desperation that comes with knowing this is how you’re going to spend the rest of your life.

    There is no retirement. No gold watch goes to the waitress after years of busting her ass. Day labor doesn’t come with a 401K to worry about. We work until work kills us. We keep it up until one day we can’t come in or we aged out. And then we collect cans and sell plasma and hope nothing goes wrong with the house. Or the car. Or our health.

  102. “my problem with organic food (since someone asked upthread) is that it takes far more land than conventional modern farming to produce far less food.”

    I really don’t think this is true.

    First, people often confuse “organic” with “sustainable” and many of the big organic outfits apparently are structured exactly like conventional factory farms, they simply use organic-program-approved pesticides and fertilizers.

    Second, one of the problems with factory farming (I am not saying we should ditch factory farming, just pointing out a problem) is that it can be wildly wasteful of space. Those huge fields require not just the space for the plants to grow but the space for big machines to move in between them. In my little vegetable patch, with every scrap of organic material returned to the soil to enrich it, I can grow far more densely per square foot than an industrial farm can.

    Part of the problem with organic and sustainable farming is that we don’t have a structure to support it; on a state or countrywide level we do stupid things like throwing food scraps in the dump and then using manufactured organic fertilizers to grow food. A true organic model of farming would involve all of a community’s organic waste being used in the soil to nourish the food for that community.

    Clearly, every family growing their own produce is not the answer, and clearly, huge agribusiness has its faults too. I think in an ideal world the solution would be something in between: in places with climates that make growing food possible, there would be community farms and gardens where food would be grown using sustainable practices, making use of all the community’s organic waste, and either feeding the local community or being exported in trade for foods that can’t be grown locally.

    And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony. ;)

  103. forward these comments to her…let her live with the ignorance versus prejudice issue . . . . nice post.

  104. Aye, and organic farming could also save more space if it made more use of companion planting. Ie; one field grows 2 crops – some beans and some corn – in the same area. The corn supports the weak bean stalks, and the beans plug nutrients into the soil for the corn.

    But of course, then we couldn’t use massive industrial machines to harvest our food, and would have to create jobs for people to harvest by hand.

  105. “Fancy gym shoes” specifically? I was reading it initially as any luxury thing that you could buy for cheaper if you weren’t being irresponsible- showing off.

    Ah, I see. Sorry it came off that way! Yes, I was speaking specifically about the Nikes, not the general concept of poor people buying things that rich people think they shouldn’t waste money on.

  106. Bunny -

    I see what you’re saying, but doing the work by hand (and thus, hiring more people) would be more expensive and would increase the cost of those crops for consumers.

    It isn’t fair/reasonable to expect the company to absorb the costs of using a more expensive/less efficient way of harvesting. If we want to farm that way and buy hand-harvested produce, then we’ll also have to pay more as well.

  107. @ Feathers – Word. I LIKE eating the Waters way, it tastes good and I feel great when I do it, but to pretend that it’s a valid option for most people is just ridiculous. Like all the people who used to live in Phoenix were saying, just try it in a desert. Hell, I used to live in Saudi Arabia, I’d love to see evangelising localvores dropped there and asked to plan a complete menu for a week using only locally sourced ingredients. Maybe once they all got scurvy from eating only meat and dairy they’d get the absurdity of what they’re suggesting. (Yes, Saudi also has fabulous fish if you live in, say, Jeddah, but that’s not going to do you a lot of good if you live inland.)

    All the points about how limited the diet can be eating that way in a colder climate as very valid too. I’m from Scotland, and sorry, there’s only so long I could eat oats and turnips for before I’d be ready to knaw my own leg off. In counties with a long cold winter, in the days before food transportation all over the world was common, you saw some pretty awful effects on public health from that kind of limited diet.

  108. Also what Caitlin said. The thing is, with a rising world population and the amount of arable land not rising, it may in the end be GMO rice that heads off disaster. I hate the idea, because the concept of genetically modifying food scares me, but realistically we need to be looking into options that provide the highest yield possible per square foot, because otherwise a whole lot of people are going to keep starving to death.

    Given that context, the whole eat organic and local movement looks like the selfish upper middle class affectation that it is. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to stop eating that way, because I’m lucky enough to live in the Bay Area and be able to do it at least part of the time, but you can’t look at the whole localvore concept without acknowledging that hey, not everyone lives in a land of agricultural bounty that meets most of their food needs, and the people who live in deserts and places that are frozen over half the year need to eat too.

  109. For most people, eating local does not mean there’s a fruit and veggie stand around the corner. By the time I find a local stand AND ensure the supply is coming from a “local” farmer, I have already increased my carbon footprint, polluted the air with my vehicle’s emissions, and now have very little time to peel, slice, chop, floret, saute, roast, marinade and pretty much prepare the damn stuff for consumption.

    Also, isn’t it true that “organic” pretty much just means
    a) the animal had ACCESS to grazing outside
    b) they didn’t use SPECIFIC chemicals
    and
    c) weren’t injected with steroids?
    I believe the only way you can totally ensure your food is 100% organic is to grow it yourself.

  110. Cassandra wrote:

    “Given that context, the whole eat organic and local movement looks like the selfish upper middle class affectation that it is.”

    That is rapidly changing. Read up on Will Allen and Van Jones, for starters. Organic and local is a wave that lifts all boats. It may have started with rich white wasps, but that is not where it stays, and is a complete misrepresentation of the people who are growing the food and what their motivations are. You’re thinking entirely of the people eating the food at places like Chez Panisse. There are legions of small farms finding ways through the farm community to bring good food to the economically disadvantaged. Growing Power in Milwaukee is aiming to provide TEN PERCENT of Milwaukee’s food eventually. Milwaukee! Come on, that’s not schmancy food snobs, that’s real people like us!

    The fact of the economic matter is that both locally produced food and sustainable energy initiatives BENEFIT economically underprivileged communities. There’s nowhere else for them to go but inside the community itself. Skills, jobs, and self-reliance are all there.

    And don’t forget that it’s low-income farmers who make all this local, organic food possible. I don’t know a single farmer in the East who is retiring early, and god knows we don’t always buy organic red peppers. We have to make the same hard financial decisions as everyone else. But having seen first hand the damage that industrial food systems do, we choose to try and make the food system healthier.

    Regina – organic standards have been watered down and changed, and because it costs money to be organically certified, many new farmers are choosing NOT to get organic certification even if they use sustainable practices. We are relying on the trust our consumers have in us to do the right thing. We love it when people ask about growing practices. You don’t have to grow it yourself, ask the face behind your food.

    As for year-round produce, and folks saying that nothing grows in their area year round, that’s another myth. You might not be getting bananas from Maine in December, but four season growing is the next huge myth to be busted open. There’s one well-known grower in Maine who makes 60 percent of his income between October and May using sustainable practices. It’s all possible. Cultural attitudes about what you eat and when will have to change to a seasonal diet, but it’s very possible to eat fresh local food year round.

  111. As soon as fancy organic stuff becomes so democratized that Chicken McNuggets are made with hormone-free free range chickens that were humanely offed, coated with panko bread crumbs, fried in fair trade certified canola oil, and served with locally sourced wildflower honey the next wave will hit us.

    LAUGHING.

    Then ORGANIC will be shown to make us all OMG OBEESE!

  112. I once had an argument with a person who ate all-organic (no offense to people who eat organic food) over “ethical” meat. I had to point out that “Being able to afford to worry about whether my food was HAPPY while it was alive is a PRIVILEGE that I do not and may never have.”

    That was meat-centric, but it applies to happy little garden veggies, too. I can’t afford, financially or temporally, to eat as ethically as people think I “should.”

    I am fucking poor, and there is no grocery nearby, nor any farmer’s market that I can get to on a weekly let alone daily basis.

    This person did not get it, sadly. Apparently I am supposed to spend all my time and money ON FOOD. I thought the point of eating was to not think about it for another four hours or so while I did all the other shit that keeps my crazy ass sane and not just alive. I don’t want to spend all my time worrying about my goddamn dinner. Christ.

    Pisses me off.

  113. Oh yeah, you can freeze the stuff that’s on it’s sell by date that day. My husband got 10 lbs of ground beef for something like 70 cents a pound and we partitioned it up into 1 lb packages and froze it. We’ve been eating a lot of beef dishes this month (and it’s been lovely) and the meat is still good. My only caveat is to buy from a retailer you trust, someplace you shop at often and know the quality of the meat that they sell.

  114. CassandraSays – as I’ve just been reading a book about Shackleton and the exploration of the Antarctic, I have to share the interesting fact that fresh meat has lots of vitamin C. This is why (e.g.) the Inuit and the Maasai don’t have scurvy despite having pretty much an all-meat diet.

  115. There are all kinds of assumptions about poor people & all kinds of judgments about how we should/should not leave. I am lower middle class, & have ranged from there down to poverty all my life. As you grow older, it is worse. If you are disabled, it is worse. As you reach the point where you may not be able to work fulltime much longer, you hear that you should have done better at saving & investing when you were younger. My experience…growing up & raising my own sons…was that there WAS nothing to save & investing meant buying food & paying rent & utilities, because my whole life has been about SURVIVAL & living paycheck to paycheck. I also do not believe all the crap we are fed & that many believe about ‘good food/bad food” & how eating certain ways will either make one thinner or guarantee better health or longer life. I have seen too many sprout & tofu eating runners drop dead in their 40′s & too many biscuit & gravy loving exercise haters live into their 90′s & beyond to buy much of what we are being sold. Also, as one who has neither a car nor a driver’s license, who has CP & arthritis, & walks almost everywhere, you had damn well better BELIEVE it is important to have good shoes.

    RE the comments about Alton Brown…not only does he made cooking more complicated & time-consuming than necessary & basically turn it into a science experiment, he is also a condescending & supercilious bigot who hates fat people & believes all the stereotypes, & hates to see fat people in line at his booksignings, because fat people should not be buying/reading books or thinking about doing MORE cooking & eating, they should apparently be walking at least 18 hours out of every 24 & he assumes that the fat families sit on their sofas watching his shows, shoveling down huge amounts of ‘bad’ foods & watching each other get fatter. There is apparently a LOT of ignorant, prejudicial thinking & privileged superiority from celebrity chefs.

  116. “Being poor means looking at things you need to survive, knowing you can’t afford them, and buying them anyway because what the fuck else are you going to do? And it means that what you get on the food stamps is mostly sodium and high-fructose corn syrup and you know it and you know it’s going to make you feel sick and sluggish all the time because it’s just not good for you but you eat it anyway because the body wants to live. It means looking with a covetous eye upon not just the organic produce, but produce full-stop, because you would just love to have a fresh apple or a handful of berries for once in your life but you can’t afford them if you’re going to have enough food to last until the food stamp card gets refilled.”

    Beautifully said. I know people where if you ask them what they’d like as a gift for a child will say “a bag of apples” because their household budget is so tight fresh fruit becomes a very occasional treat. People who have never experienced actual poverty have no clue what it’s like, which is why they spout glib nonsense like “save a little each week. . .” Of course, if you ask them just how much they’re saving, it turns out to be zip — because most Americans, no matter what the income level, are piss poor at saving.

  117. Hi, ReginaT,
    For most people, eating local does not mean there’s a fruit and veggie stand around the corner. By the time I find a local stand AND ensure the supply is coming from a “local” farmer, I have already increased my carbon footprint, polluted the air with my vehicle’s emissions, and now have very little time to peel, slice, chop, floret, saute, roast, marinade and pretty much prepare the damn stuff for consumption.

    Also, isn’t it true that “organic” pretty much just means
    a) the animal had ACCESS to grazing outside
    b) they didn’t use SPECIFIC chemicals
    and
    c) weren’t injected with steroids?
    I believe the only way you can totally ensure your food is 100% organic is to grow it yourself.

    No, #1 is not what “organic” means in relation to meat. That’s “free-range.” Organic is more like your items #2 and #3. An “organic” piece of meat could just as easily have been raised in factory-type conditions but without the chemicals, etc.

    “Free-range” is a non-specific term that’s often just meant to make people feel better about what they’re buying; there are no legal standards. As you point out, it can mean anything. There are egg-producing facilities, for example, where the chickens are packed in as horribly as they are anywhere else, but there is some kind of opening in the shed through which the chickens theoretically could walk to the outside, if only they could fight their way to it. And so forth. :-/

  118. I think that the argument between organic, sustainable and conventional farming is one of the most complex, grey, and difficult issues affecting this country and the world at whole. There are so many misconceptions about the practices in either model. But as a grower, I know that growing without pesticides and fungicides can be extremely difficult, time consuming, and labor intensive, but at the same time, the chemicals are so toxic that I often wonder how we’re all alive today. (And I grew non-edible, flowering crops, so I also used growth regulators which opens another huge can of worms.) But at the same time, DDT was banned for a reason, and I don’t believe we know the full impact of the chemicals we’ve been using since the green revolution started.
    I also think that idea of GMO crops can be scary, but really, if you consider that most crops are cultivars resulting from crossbreeding (think potatoes) the practical aspects of GMO can easily be seen. If GMO can provide plants that require less chemicals, that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen.

  119. I do think sustainably raised/orgainc foods are better overall nutrition-wise and for the environment. That said I am tired of feeling like a bad person/mother for not being able to participate. The advice that is given on how on afford orgaincs is also very frustrating…for example–

    1. Cook from scratch to save (already do! We don’t even buy bread. We also eat very simply–think porridge, stew)

    2. Eat less/no meat (my body does not accept this idea. We tried and I feel weak and depressed.)

    3. Go and ask farmer for reduced/free food. Work at the farm for a discount. (I have 2 small children and one is breastfeeding. I can’t leave her for more than about 1.5 hours.)

    4. You can eat less since organic food has more nutrients (Um, that will go over well with my 4 yo. “You may still feel hungry honey, but you have the same amount of nutrients in your body”)

    5.Stop going out to eat (Seriously? I should never have a break from cooking? It is cheaper than a mental instituion and I know because I have been there. Plus, we go out to a taqueria for a big family night out so I don’t think $11 is going to make a huge impact towards affording organics)

    6. Stop buying “extras” (Like gas, electricity, medical care, and bras? We don’t have cable ect.)

    7. Stop buying processed foods (Check!)

    8. Grow your own (we do have some garden boxes going and a few fruit trees, but live in a downtown area so we can’t exactly have a farm on our tiny lot)

    Just recently I had $30 to spend for the week on everything. Now I could get chicken at Winco (a giant store where you pack your own bags) for 99 cents a pound (it was on sale for 28 cents that day even) or free range chicken for 3.50 a pound. So I can buy a whole 4 pound chicken for $4 or one for $16!!! Even here in California, organics are consistently 2-4X more expensive than conventional.

    I also think it is important to share food with others and we absolutely could not do that with organics’ prices. Like a pp said, I want to have LIFE not spend all my time thinking about, finding, and preparing food. I already spend a lot of time on that out of necessity.

    Another myth that I see perpetuated is that eating organic is the only way to be healthy…I think one can be very healthy on conventional food. I eat a high protein diet with lots of vegetables and some nutrient supplements and it keeps me off psychiatric medication (for 3 years now!). My children and husband are very healthy as well.

  120. CassandraSays: “The thing is, with a rising world population and the amount of arable land not rising, it may in the end be GMO rice that heads off disaster. I hate the idea, because the concept of genetically modifying food scares me, but realistically we need to be looking into options that provide the highest yield possible per square foot, because otherwise a whole lot of people are going to keep starving to death.”

    Nonsense.

    1) An endlessly-rising world population will lead to disaster no matter what.
    2) “Options that provide the highest yield possible per square foot” in the short term damage the soil and surrounding ecosystems, leading to loss of arable soil plus New! Bonus! plagues, droughts, and floods.
    3) The global food supply, right now, is more than enough to feed everybody alive right now. The people starving are starving because of economic injustice, not because there isn’t enough food to go around. Let’s fix what’s actually broken.

    I don’t mean to attack you personally, Cassandra. The agribusiness companies put out very plausible ads about how their chemicals and patented seeds are necessary to Feed the World, but those ads are lying propaganda designed to distract us from what’s really going on. And companies making money by making people starve really infuriate me.

  121. Oh, yeah.

    4) The highest sustainable yield per square foot usually involves interplanting and rotating crops, lots of human labor, and taking advantage of the local ecosystem to replace as much labor as possible. All those techniques are incompatible with the techniques that are cheap for giant agribusinesses to do.

    For instance, pests are less of a problem if you plant certain species together: growing garlic under your roses will help repel some of the bugs that chew on roses. And pests are less of a problem if you keep your fields small, with hedges or even strips of mown grass in between, because that provides cover for predators like spiders, who think aphids are the tastiest treats ever. And pests are less of a problem for staple crops if you grow a bunch of different cultivars, because they have different levels of resistance to the various pests, where if you grow one cultivar then the one pest it’s particularly vulnerable to can wipe out the entire crop for that year.

    But standard industrial practices are to plant only one cultivar, of one crop, in giant fields, because that way it can be easily harvested by machine.

  122. Rozasharn – Yeah, I know all that, but the thing is, IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. Seriously, it may well be smarter to return to the style of farming that existed before modern agribusiness, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

    Now if we wanted to suggest a workable compromise between the anti-agribusiness model and the agribusiness industry itself, tweaking the subsidies that most First World countries have that encourage farms to produce tons of Crop A, most of which the market doesn’t buy, so the government does, thus creating things like the Butter Mountain that people used to talk about in Europe? That would be a good way to go.

    Of course in the USA that would also mean revamping the Food Stamps program so that it doesn’t force people to subsist mostly on the aformentioned agricultural products that the system produces too much of. There’s a reason Food Stamps are geared towards getting people to purchase certain foods, you know, and it’s not just because the program was created long before modern food guidelines were.

    And there’s your conspiracy theory post from the day from your resident socialist.

  123. Cassandra – Surprise! It is already happening. You just aren’t familiar with what’s happening out there. The 2007 ag census shows a dramatic drop in the number of 500+ acre farms and a dramatic RISE in the number of farms under 50 acres, all since 2002. My state is number one in direct farm-to-consumer sales, and the current number of small farms can’t fill the market. Towns are re-examining open space policies to encourage returning land to agricultural use and enacting right-to-farm bylaws. And it turns out…that people actually like farming. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s rewarding. It’s good for families and the economic health of communities. The number of career-changers who are choosing farming is surprising…it’s not enough, but it’s a good start.

    It will be very interesting to see what shifts under the new ag secretary and his undersecretary (who’s a big-time policy maker and researcher for organic ag).

    Food stamps are managed by the USDA, and were originally a way to manage overproduction. We just kept on overproducing. I suspect food assistance AND the farm subsidies program will change a great deal in the next 8-10 years.

  124. “There’s a reason Food Stamps are geared towards getting people to purchase certain foods, you know, and it’s not just because the program was created long before modern food guidelines were.”

    Yeah, I know. The agriculture lobby pushed for food stamps to be restricted to domestic products only as a price of getting the law passed. We were on WIC when I was a baby, and my mom used to talk about how even if imported cheese was cheaper that week, she couldn’t use the WIC stamps to buy it, because the policy goal of subsidizing American agriculture got priority over the goal of feeding children.

  125. “Cultural attitudes about what you eat and when will have to change to a seasonal diet, but it’s very possible to eat fresh local food year round.”

    Kale and beets for everyone, all winter long! Yum, yum.

  126. I have another objection to genetically-modified crops: they’re a quagmire of patents, and the final product is also patented. This restricts their legal use, and especially the saving of seed for the next crop — it’s not a given that it’s legal, and in most cases I believe it would not be, not automatically.

    Food is political.

  127. Eucritta – if you buy GM seeds, they can’t be used again the following year. But I’m not sure what your issue with that is…farmers are certainly free to buy non-GM seeds, but if they choose to buy GM from a certain company, then they have to deal with how the company chooses to do business.

  128. Also, the use of GM seeds can greatly reduce the amount of dangerous herbicides that have to be used, in addition to the amount of erosion-causing tilling of the soil. I’m not entirely sure where I stand on GM, but there are definitely positives outside of just the bigger yield aspect.

  129. Of the myriad diets that have sustained healthy humans for thousands of years, from vegan to raw whale blubber, the US has managed to create the only diet that is undeniably toxic to us and to the country’s resources.

    Undeniably? WTF?? I can actually manage to deny that bullshit, and thus, it is deniable. Also, please, the “real food” phrase is making me so annoyed I’m almost literally sputtering over here. REAL?? Seriously? There is no fucking such thing as real and fake food. Maybe you have read blogs like this one for very long, but a general underlying opinion of many of us here is that assigning moral value to food is fallacious and harmful.

    Of course, if you ask them just how much they’re saving, it turns out to be zip — because most Americans, no matter what the income level, are piss poor at saving.

    This is fucking crap. I think this pushed me from feeling annoyed to feeling a little mad.

    And Rozasharn, I don’t think population models expect an endlessly rising global population. There are too many things that would keep that in check, one way or another. It’s kind of like the suggestion that we’re just going to keep getting fatter and fatter and fatter until there are no thin people left! And it takes a pretty big amount of privilege to argue for more expensive, more labor-intensive, and lower-yield sources of food because that’s somehow more pure or natural or nice – or even because it’s just better in the long run. A lot of people literally can’t afford to consider the long run. There are absolutely advantages to the systems you described, yes, but there are also GENUINE advantages to the more efficient system, such as, well, efficiency. But you and Magicbean are, frankly, downright proselytizing about this as though it’s a simple, black-and-white answer: the good farms vs. the evil farms. That’s fucking bullshit, and yeah, this thread has made me mad.

  130. ^ While I agree with the overall idea of your post, Americans DO save less than people of other nationalities. I’m not making a normative judgment about that (if I had stats in front of me I might argue that Americans nominally save less because our incomes are relatively high and the return on domestic investments in the US is better than in other countries, but I don’t have the stats), but the idea that Americans save relatively less is true.

  131. Rozasharn – about the endlessly increasing global population leading to disaster…ever heard of Thomas Malthus???

  132. I;m sorry volcanista, I didn’t read the initial post. I was just responding to the savings issue. The most compelling reason I’ve heard for a lower savings rate in the US is basically that our investments tend to grow at a faster rate than in other countries, so Americans don’t need to save as much of their money to end up with the same end sum.

    Again, I’m not passing a values judgment, just concurring with the statement that Americans save a relatively smaller portion of their income than people in other counties.

  133. Carla, my issue with not being able to save GM crop seeds is that the cost of having to purchase the seeds every year will likely make them unaffordable in the very countries that most need better nutrition. If the purpose of GM is improve crops and food stability world-wide, then it seems to me that some sort of accommodation for subsistence farming will have to be reached, but so far as I know there’s been no consensus on how to do this.

  134. And it takes a pretty big amount of privilege to argue for more expensive, more labor-intensive, and lower-yield sources of food because that’s somehow more pure or natural or nice – or even because it’s just better in the long run. A lot of people literally can’t afford to consider the long run. There are absolutely advantages to the systems you described, yes, but there are also GENUINE advantages to the more efficient system, such as, well, efficiency. But you and Magicbean are, frankly, downright proselytizing about this as though it’s a simple, black-and-white answer: the good farms vs. the evil farms. That’s fucking bullshit, and yeah, this thread has made me mad.

    Co-signed.

  135. Here’s another problem I have with the anti-agribusiness, GMO is unreservedly bad perspective – it assumes evil intent.

    Now like I said, I’m a socialist (so not inclined to take the side of big business in general), but…can we really assume that the people developing GMO foods like the aformentioned higher-yield rice are not actually trying to alleviate problems? I mean I’m not pretending that Monsanto isn’t motivated by profit, but I find the automatic assumption that there’s no humanitarian goal motivating anyone involved that so many people on the left make a bit baffling. Are we really assuming that, say, the very clever scientists working on these crops don’t have humanitarian goals in mind?

    I’m going back to the higher yield rice example for a reason. OK, to make this practical, let’s look at China. China is starting to have water supply problems. In fact it’s recently been in the news that the main source of water supply for Shanghai is drying up. Now the staple food for most of China (not parts of the north) is rice. It takes a LOT of water to grow rice. And China already had a famine that killed about 20 million people in the 20th century (though bad government policy had a lot to do with that). If higher-yield rice could help stave off a future famine, is there anyone who wouldn’t be incredibly happy to have that higher-yield rice avaliable, even if it was the product of the evil agribusiness? I have the same worries about safety of GMO crops as a lot of other people, but if it came down to a choice between possible future risk and people having food to eat right now, can anyone honestly say that “feed people right now” wouldn’t be the best choice to make?

    I think it takes a whole lot of privilege to say “no” in that situation.

  136. Also, and Dr. Dean Edell pointed this out in Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, almost all crops we eat nowadays have been “genetically modified” in some way; a carrot today does not much resemble a carrot from 500 years ago, and that difference is not all nature’s doing. Seeds get combined and synthetized all the frigging time. We eat grape tomatoes and purple potatoes and seedless grapes and watermelons; does anyone think all that happened “naturally”? Hell, if you can engineer an orange with four times the vitamin C, I say go for it. This OMG I CAN FEEL MY CELLS METASTASIZING FROM EATING FRANKENVEGGIES stuff is just silly. They’re still veggies.

    Frankly, I buy organic or nearly-so veggies when I can mainly because I don’t like the idea of agricultural workers getting poisoned when they pick them. Their work is difficult enough already.

  137. Right, GMO is not automatically evil. I understand the problems with altering plants faster than they normally would by breeding and then introducing them untested – the effects tend to be unpredictable. I want some controls on that for safety’s sake. But it’s not some horrible evil thing.

    And I think the there’s-more-than-enough-food argument could be neglecting all of the crops that get used for other purposes, even though they are also edible. We aren’t just throwing out all the soy or peanut oil that’s being grown out there and not eaten – it also has industrial uses, important ones.

  138. Eucritta,

    I understand your point, but companies are profit maximizing entities. While we can argue all day about what moral responsibilities seed companies have, the bottom line is that the burden of alieviating world hunger shouldn’t be on their backs. We could get into a whole discussion here, but Monsanto created the RR soybean seed to increase yield for farmers, not to end poverty.

    If we as a society tell companies like Monsanto that they have to make products like RR seeds cheap to everyone (despite the heavy costs of researching and developing these products), we are effectively telling companies to spend a lot of money on something and then not make any money back. If we lived in an ideal world, that would certainly be nice, but the fact is, if Monsanto isn’t making money on its investments, they’ll simply stop investing altogether. And then NO ONE will have the ability to buy round up, or GM soybeans, or GM corn or any of the other myriad of products that has revolutionized farming.

    And yes, my icon DOES look like a floating bunny. Perhaps I am a floating bunny?

  139. Meowser said what I was about to — farming IS genetic modification. The main kinds of rice and wheat we eat — and have been eating for thousands of years — are hybrids so fucked up genetically they CAN’T GROW in the wild and are DEPENDENT on us for their continued survival (as are we on them). All sweetcorn we eat today is the result of a single genetic mutation that made it, you know, sweet. Most crops today bear almost no resemblance to how we found them in the wild. (The maize cobs the Native Americans were eating when white Europeans encountered them were the size of a thumb.)

    If you’ve ever eaten FOOD you’ve eaten genetically modified produce. The difference today is that instead of randomly cross-breeding species in the hopes of introducing a positive trait, while also potentially introducing any number of negative traits and thousands of previously unknown gene interactions, we can deliberately introduce one single gene change, whose effects we have a rough idea of because we’ve seen them in other plants, and see if it works. As with anything else in science, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s quicker, easier and more targeted than conventional breeding, with practically unlimited possibilites for increasing yield and nutritional content and disease resistance and all that good stuff (whereas before we were limited to the genes present in a plant’s own gene pool — if a crop doesn’t resist drought, that’s it). But because it’s done in a lab it’s automatically seen by many people as bad/evil/FRANKENFOOD BOOGA BOOGA — the false nautral/unnatural dichotomy again. Famines that wipe out millions are perfectly natural occurences; people who can’t buy food even in richer countries starving to death is a perfectly natural occurence. “Natural” cannot be the only “good” or important feature of food.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of issues to be worked out with GM food — agribusiness holding the patents, species outbreeding that weren’t meant to, the genetic limitations of certain plant species, how the West is going to interact with farmers in developing countries in this regard (cause it’s not like we have a track record of success in that or any other area). I’m not saying GM is perfect and I’m not saying people should eat GM food if they’re not happy about it.

    I am saying that if your objection to GM food is along the line of “ugh, frankenfoods”, it might be worth finding out a little more about what GM actually is and means. I know all about GM food, how it’s made and what it involves, and I would for serious eat it for every meal for the rest of my life. There are 10s of 1000s of genes in every plant you eat already; introducing one more to reduce the use of pesticide, or increase yield, or increase its resistance to cold or drought or disease, won’t make a difference to me as a consumer (in the literal sense of eating) of that food. But that’s the decision I’ve made for me.

    There are also the absolutely amazing things GM has done and has the ptoential to do — like the Green Revolution in rice, which took India from a state of famine where millions died to being able to export wheat, or Golden Rice, which has built-in precursors to vitamin A (beta carotene, like you get in carrots) so that millions of people across Asia who were going unnecessarily blind on a subsistence rice diet from lack of vitamin A WON’T GO BLIND ANYMORE. (And I seem to remember that it’s being given out free to farmers with an income of less than $10000 a year — i.e. those most at risk — so in answer to the questions above, yes, there are at least some scientists with humanitarian concerns working in that field.)

    It’s a decision everyone absolutely needs to make for themselves, but as mentioned above, it’s important to realise that for many millions of people, that decision is a luxury they cannot afford, and impeding GM technology may well stand between them and life-sustaining food. There are reasonable objections to GM food and agribusiness to be made (just like there are reasonable objections to be made prescription drugs and Big Pharma, but I’m not about to wholesale reject Western medicine — I quite like being able to eat without crippling stomach pains, thanks.) It’s just SO frustrating how much of an unquestioned run OMG FRANKENFOOD is given in the media, with the alternate view of GM as (in my opinion) a fucking miracle almost never put across.

    It’s not black and white — it never is!

  140. Meowser:
    “Also, …, almost all crops we eat nowadays have been “genetically modified” in some way; a carrot today does not much resemble a carrot from 500 years ago, and that difference is not all nature’s doing. Seeds get combined and synthetized all the frigging time.”

    Sure – but they were combined and modified by cross breeding and culling, which basically means tweaking evolutionary pressure. What we do now is that we artificially splice genes from completely unrelated species – this is not simply a speedier way of doing what we always did and what nature did for eons before us. Cross breeding requires organisms to be closely related, whereas splicing can combine genes from species that aren’t.

    Honestly, I’m on the fence when it comes to GMOs. I wonder whether the benefits outweigh the risks, especially when again and again it becomes clear that the modified species cannot be contained safely.

    Also, the fact that so much effort is spent to make GMOs not more pest resistant, but more pesticide resistant, makes me think that the basic idea is to make sure pesticide sales don’t drop. But when it comes to big agrobusiness, I may be a bit paranoid…

  141. I feel I should clarify that by “it’s quicker, easier and more targeted than conventional breeding” I meant in terms of initially introducing a specific, desired gene or trait into a species that doesn’t already posses it. It obviously isn’t quicker or easier than just getting two plants to breed together — I can do that in my back garden, like. And the rounds of research and sequencing and testing and crop trials etc that follow certainly take “quick” and “easy” out of the question as far as getting the crop onto the market for farmers.

  142. Private Jane,

    I’m a little confused about your post. You talk about the use of pesticides…as far as I know, there are very few PESTICIDE resistant crops. I think you mean HERBICIDE resistant, which is entirely different, because plants cannot be made to resist the nearby presence of weeds. Unless farmers want to manually till the soil regularly, herbicides will always need to be used.

    If pesticides truly are an issue and I am mistaken, I understand your arguement, but I believe herbicides are far more prevalent, which is really an entirely different issue.

  143. Cross breeding requires organisms to be closely related, whereas splicing can combine genes from species that aren’t.

    a) Sometimes it can, sometimes it can’t and b) Can you explain to me what’s problematic about that? There is a huge amount of genetic similarity between plant species (and between animal species come to that, which is why we test drugs in mice) so plant species are all related — they have to be, or transgenics wouldn’t work. If you splice in a gene from an organism that’s too distantly related or too unlike what the plant’s seen before, it won’t know how to process the transcripts, or how to modify the gene product once it’s made, or have the other components in a pathway for the new gene product to react with. GM only works if the plant can deal successfully with the gene(s) you’re introducing, so you only can put in genes it has the machinery to understand. Otherwise it either won’t work at all, or will make the plant do things you don’t want it to do, and then it’s back to the drawing board.

    “But when it comes to big agribusiness, I may be a bit paranoid…”

    There’s plenty to be paranoid about. Crops that are modified to be herbicide resistant then need to be sprayed with the exact herbicide they’ve been modified to be resistant to, which — guess what! — the agribusiness that sold you the crop will often provide for a very reasonable fee. But that’s problems with business practices, not with the safety of the food (though those arguments are often conflated once the topic of GM is raised).

    I feel I should point out that there *are* crop strains developed to be resistant to pests (maize and the corn borer are the ones coming to mind for me — it caused huge yield losses til they created a maize strain that excreted a toxin found in other species that kills it off) but you aren’t wrong that there are a lot of factors involved in GM development and distribution besides just creating the best possible food. It would just be nice to have the positive side of the story given an airing now and again.

  144. Crops that are modified to be herbicide resistant then need to be sprayed with the exact herbicide they’ve been modified to be resistant to, which — guess what! — the agribusiness that sold you the crop will often provide for a very reasonable fee.

    While the overwhelming majority of farmers use RR seeds for certain crops (soybeans immediately come to mind), they are still free to choose seeds from another source if they have that concern. If you don’t like the idea of RR products, you can buy seeds from another source.

  145. If you don’t like the idea of RR products, you can buy seeds from another source.

    Yeah, I’m just saying that Private Jane (while I also think she mixed up pesticides and herbicides) is not wrong that that does happen.

  146. “Of course, if you ask them just how much they’re saving, it turns out to be zip — because most Americans, no matter what the income level, are piss poor at saving.

    This is fucking crap. I think this pushed me from feeling annoyed to feeling a little mad.”

    I apologize…but how is this fucking crap???

  147. Yeah, I’m just saying that Private Jane (while I also think she mixed up pesticides and herbicides) is not wrong that that does happen.

    Ahh…I gotcha! Yes, that absolutely does happen. The RR soybean is a prime example. Sorry I was reading as though the poster was really pissed off/angry about that. My mistake…this is why I really shouldn’t be on the internetsz before I’ve had breakfast.

  148. The problem with GMOs is not the technology – it’s the greed behind it. Take corn, for instance. Corn is wind pollinated. If I grow corn and my neighbor grows GMO corn, it’s inevitable that his corn will with cross with mine. Right now, Monsanto has the legal right to come into my fields, test for their patented corn, spray herbicides to kill all the non GMO corn in my fields and determine what’s theirs and take what’s left standing. Even if I never bought their GMO seeds and don’t want it. I can’t stop the wind from spreading pollen, so I’m at the mercy of the law. Legal case-tested right to do that. If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is. And what it their terminator gene which prevents plants from creating viable seed gets into other varieties?
    Big, big problems. GMOs remove self-reliance and empowerment from communities and farms, not because of the technology, but because of the big companies who make a profit from them.

    Farming and traditional seed breeding is NOT GMO. It’s very different. Selective breeding over generations is very, very different and I won’t bore you with the details of why and how. But those of you who are claiming that they are the same thing should look into it more thoroughly before you make that claim. Suffice to say that the process is as important as the end result, and GMO is entirely based on end result. And yes you can select for specific traits in your backyard garden.

    Do my neighbors run conventional, GMO farms? You bet. Are they great folks with good families, who work hard and care about their communities and simply want to pay their rent at the end of the day? They sure are.

    I know it’s tiresome to hear that there’s a whole other ethical component to food to add to the endless list of food issues, problems, and worries. I wish people like Vandana Shiva got more press than Alice Waters. I simply came to make the point that there’s a great deal more to sustainable ag than Alice Waters world, and stayed to correct a bit of misinformation and misunderstanding. There’s still clearly a lot of strong opinion about what sustainable agriculture means or represents or is capable of that isn’t based on much except a couple of news articles and interviews with controversial figureheads likie Waters…the news isn’t really an accurate picture of what’s pragmatic, real, and practical on the ground in sustainable ag. There’s a lot more to it than Alice and arguments about GMOs, and a lot of good people who care deeply about making sure that everyone has enough good food to eat, worldwide. It would be nice to see those efforts supported rather than denigrated because of a lack of understanding.

  149. @Carla: you’re right – I mixed up pesticides and herbicides, and I was refering to the latter. Sorry – German (which is my native language) does not distinguish between the two, at least in colloquial use, so I got a bit sloppy.

    For the record: What worries me most about GMOs is the question of containment. I just want to make sure that it remains my choice whether to use GMOs or not. Especially regarding the Monstanto RR seeds, I don’t see how that is going to happen, considering that there are many cases of RR seeds cross-pollinating with neighbouring crops.

    @Caitlin: I see your point, and considering that I have several friends whose well-being relies on artificially produced insulin, I’m not going to deny that there are huge benefits to be drawn from genetic modifications. It again boils down to the question of containment: Can we be sure we can control what we create?

  150. Carla, it seems to me that so long as seed-saving of patented crops is not legal, then they cannot be defended as a latter-day green revolution. As they have been.

  151. Carla, fwiw, I do think it’s okay to hold companies to standards of safety and, depending on how you define it, ethics, though admittedly the companies never like getting less profit. So if what this company is doing with their seeds is deemed to be reprehensible by the international community, or even local governments, or if they want more ecological testing, I think that kind of regulation is what government is FOR. But I don’t know enough about the subject to have a firm opinion on this particular case, and I appreciate Caitlin’s input a whole lot. You’re smart, Caitlin!

    iheartchocolat, you just basically called Americans idiots who don’t know how to save their own money. Personally, I don’t really like being insulted to my face.

  152. What about a risk of widespread GMO crops that I haven’t seen mentioned yet — monoculture?

    Fields and fields and fields of the same, highly productive, herbicide resistant varieties can spell disaster when a virulent fungal disease or pest comes along.

    Check out the Cavendish banana — almost every banana sold in grocery stores across the US is a Cavendish, there are thousands of plantations full of Cavendish plants across the world, and now a fungus or disease (I forget which) is seriously threatening all of them. It looks very likely that my grandchildren will never taste a Cavendish banana. The banana growing industry is in seriously deep shit.

    One might think that embracing GM crops would add to the diversity of available varieties, but this doesn’t seem to be so, and it means that people are increasingly missing out on a huge range of food delights. Black rye. Purple tomatoes. Spicy bananas. Bright red lettuce. (The commenter above who mentioned grape tomatoes is dead wrong, at least on that particular count: “grape” tomatoes as marketed in the US are fairly new, but in parts of South America where tomatoes are indigenous, the variety available everywhere from tiny and red to huge and yellow is absolutely staggering.)

    So: evil, no. Holding massive potential for good, yes. Holding massive potential for bad, also yes.

  153. Eucritta, I think there are two separate conversations going on here, one about the safety/suitability of GMOs as a food source, and one about the ethics of the current model of GM development and distribution.

    I am completely with you on thinking that GM crops shouldn’t be patented, that banning seed saving is wrong and harms farmers, and that there has to be a better way. I can also see the agribusinesses’ argument that, having spent millions and millions on research and development, they’re entitled to recoup that money somehow.

    What’s the solution? I don’t know. It almost certainly lies in bigger investment in public sector research — universities and charitable foundations and the like. The public and private sectors were working on the human genome simultaneously, and the private company doing it quite seriously wanted to patent huge swathes of the human genome. Our own fucking DNA! Meaning that anyone who’d wanted to do research on a particular gene would have had to pay them for the rights, and genetics as we know it today simply wouldn’t exist because the costs would be prohibitive. But a combination of international outcry and the fact they were (allegedly) using the public sector’s data to supplement their own research meant that didn’t happen, thank fuck.

    There isn’t such an international outcry over the patenting of GM crops because people don’t know about/understand it, and most people stop at “genetically modifying food is wrong” and don’t look far beyond that. Which is fair enough, because god knows there are any number of scientific fields where I stop at the first fence (particle physics, anyone?). But it’s also unfortunate, because it means the pressure that should be brought to bear on agribusiness about this isn’t there yet, and a lot of important conversations aren’t being had.

    Hee. Thanks, volcanista!

  154. Caitlin,

    Patent protection is the backbone of all scientific research. The idea being that a company gets to reap the benefits of their massive investment for a limited time, in exchange for making that knowledge part of the public record and eventually allowing it to become the property of everyone. If companies couldn’t hold their patents (in any field with IP, including pharmaceuticals and agriculture) so much important research and development would simply never take place. I think its incredibly shortsighted to believe that we should basically take away intellectual property rights.

  155. Caitlin, here’s a reference for your awesome:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

    Norman Borlaug, through his work with genetically modified crops, can be credited with saving the lives of over a BILLION people– as Penn Jillette said, “That’s BILLION! With a B!”

    For anyone who has doubts about “GM” crops, seriously, how do a billion lives not tip the scale? I just– I’m sorry, this shit just gets me really angry, so I’m gonna stop trying to talk now.

  156. No, Carla, patent protection could be argued to be the backbone of industry research. There are a lot of us who are not industry-employed and don’t have to worry about patents. And you said yourself that big companies (agrobusiness in this case, but it’s the same with big pharma and everything else) are only concerned with their profits. I bet creative business people could come up with a way to make money off something like seed without doing things some might see as screwing over their own customers. We’re moving away from strict intellectual property ideas in other industries, and those industries are not collapsing (though the biggest businesses that did not consider other ways of making profits are hurting more).

  157. I love Penn Jillette too, but you know, he thinks the ADA and federally required accommodations for disabled people shouldn’t exist, so he’s kind of living in his own little privileged bubble in a lot of ways.

    For every Norman Borlaug there’s someone or some company who’s less of a messiah. You had a natural disaster — flood, famine, locusts, or just a fire in your seed storage barn? You lost your stock of seed saved from a strain that goes back to your great-grandparents? No problem! We’re here to save you. Here, go into debt to buy seed from us, and oh incidentally you won’t be able to *save* the seed from your crop, so next year you’ll need to buy it again, and the year after that, and the year after that too.

    Some of the shit that GM crops allow large companies to pull on small farmers, especially in developing countries, is absolutely appalling. I’m not arguing against the existence of GM crop research, no, but something like a well-funded global seed bank of “public domain” seed is probably a good idea to balance it out just so our food supply never gets too dependent on someone’s profit line.

  158. Lume – As I am one of the people with doubts, I’ll answer this.

    I would like to see genetic modification used responsibly. In my books that does not automatically equate to not wanting it used at all, which is what you seem to be implying.

    Honestly, your argument sounds like a slippery slope to me: Just because I’m not a wide-eyed believer I condemn billions – with a B! – of people to death? Doesn’t sit too well with me.

  159. Lume doesn’t sound like a “wide-eyed believer” to me, Private Jane. People can have educated opinions without being idiots.

    But hey, I just lead the sheep, so what do I know.

  160. Okay, first: general apology. I want to clarify that I did not mean to attack anyone here.

    @ Kristin
    I’m certainly not trying to suggest Penn Jillette is totally aware of his privilege. ;-) I think he’s generally an ally, but, yeah, there are problems there. Definitely.

    Kristin and Private Jane:

    I’m sorry if I appeared to be requiring “wide-eyed” belief– I’m pretty well against that, actually. And if your deal is that you want the tech used responsibly, then I’ve set us up on fake-opposite sides unintentionally. My problem is with the people who want to ban GM foods entirely– the “Frankenfood” protesters– not those who have legitimate concerns about business practices that are currently in place.

    I admit, I’m not as informed on agribusiness shenanigans as Kristin. I don’t think requiring farmers to re-buy every season is fair, either. Different regulations clearly need to be developed. I think the global public domain seed bank is an excellent idea.

  161. @Lume: Yeah, I think we’re more in agreement here than we realised…:-) And as for the “wide-eyed believer” – that was not aimed specifically at you, I was trying to illustrate the black-or-white reasoning that I was getting from your comment. Sorry if you felt attacked, that was not my intention.

    @volcanista – I really don’t see what you’re getting at, sorry. Let’s just agree to disagree.

  162. Private Jane, I was recently told in another thread that because I don’t think all “chemicals” are inherently evil, I’m encouraging everyone to be unthinking sheep. “Wide eyed believer” sounds a lot like the same kind of accusation – that a person who thinks some business practices or uses of technology are actually okay must be uninformed and ignorant.

  163. I’m not arguing against the existence of GM crop research, no, but something like a well-funded global seed bank of “public domain” seed is probably a good idea to balance it out just so our food supply never gets too dependent on someone’s profit line.

    I would love this. And the thing is, these kinds of banks do exist for stocks of genetically modified mice, yeast, nematodes and fruit flies (and almost certainly others, but those are the ones I’m aware of), so it is really not outside the bounds of possibility. Most of those stocks have been created by public sector research and are maintained in public sector labs (e.g. universities), so they are available at affordable prices to other researchers. The money charged is usually just to recoup the costs of initially creating the strain and maintaining it, and maybe to fund further research or stock creation, rather than to create a profit. (It’s actually kind of beautiful.)

    There’s no good reason that can’t be done with GM seed, but it would take a LOT more investment into public sector GM food research than there is available right now (’cause all the money goes to the sexy research topics, like cancer. Not so many people are looking at how the world’s going to feed itself a hundred years from now. There’s a lot to be deconstructed there in terms of how well research is funded versus who it benefits, i.e. white westerners versus poor Africans/Asians.)

    And as Carla points out, as long as the R&D is coming from the big agribusinesses, the problem with patents is going to persist, and it’s hard to see how it could be avoided.

  164. Volcanista,

    I guess we’ll just agree to disagree. I still believe that patent protection is a necessary part of an economy that relies on science and technology. I think companies should be able to make money off of their investments. And I don’t think theres anything wrong with companies being profit-driven. Yes, the agriculture industry still has social responsibilities, but profit shouldn’t be a dirty word.

    Its just a philosophical difference, and we’re both free to have our opinions. I’m an economist, so the idea of a world without patent protection /IP protection makes me cringe.

  165. And I don’t think theres anything wrong with companies being profit-driven.

    But neither do I, and that’s not what I said. I’m not against companies existing or the fact that they are profit-driven. I am “against” (I guess) unchecked profit with no government restrictions to protect human rights, work or general human safety, or the ecology of local and global environments.

  166. ^I think that’s a pretty uncontroversial stance.

    I apologize if I misunderstood you. I was responding to Caitlin (I think?) who had said something to the effect of patents are the main issue. And I responded by saying that I disagreed, that I felt patents were a very good thing. And them you responded to that with what I thought was disagreement. I’m sorry if I misunderstood what you were saying.

    My only point was that patent protection is a generally good thing, and something that I see as vital to aggressive techonological research, which is a pretty noncontroversial stance among mainstream economists. I’m still undecided on the saving-seed issue.

  167. ick, sorry for the typos. And I was responding to volcanista. I take no stance on the Cheetos/Iggy Pop conversation.

  168. And when it comes to specialties, I’m the first to admit I’m not an economist and my understanding of economics is basic. But I do keep hearing about other profitable business models for, say, the entertainment industry besides copyright protection, which is different from patent protection but there are some similarities. I know that patents have become so expensive that they can be not a motivation, but an impediment to research at the public sector or small business level – something that is NOT good from many economists’ perspectives. And I know that publicly funded scientists are doing great work and are often at the forefront of research, with rare patent protection and no profit.

    I AM a specialist in earth science, and I teach environmental science (among other things). There are important concerns that we as a global society need to prioritize, whether or not businesses profit from it. If the goals of research are nothing but private profits with no oversight or controls, the results are sometimes excellent and sometimes downright dangerous or damaging. Profit cannot be the only priority, or we’d end up… well, somewhere like where we’ve ended up.

  169. I totally agree that we need to move away from the single-mindedness of the past eight years. Absolutely, 100%.

    I think the biggest thing is that so much of our R&D comes from large profit-minded companies. If we want those companies to keep researching new medications/agricultural stuff/techonology of any flavor, they need to be able to turn a profit off of what they develop. It would be great if companies would be willing to spend billions to develop new seeds and then give the techonology away to anyone who wanted it, but that isn’t the reality.

    If you want to argue that the price of obtaining a patent is too high, I think there’s something to be said there. But there is no doubt that companies who spend billions on research need to be able to protect their investment and reap the financial rewards.

    Copywriting is an entirely different issue, and I don’t think that you can consider the entertainment industry and anologue to anything, lol.

  170. I was responding to Caitlin (I think?) who had said something to the effect of patents are the main issue. And I responded by saying that I disagreed, that I felt patents were a very good thing.

    I think it depends what we’re defining as “a good thing”. In terms of encouraging big companies to keep spending money on advancing research into GM crops, I agree that they’re vital, because if they can’t make money out of that research they won’t bother doing it (which is a reasonable position for a profit-driven entity).

    In terms of poor farmers/consumers in developing countries, who potentially could benefit most from the additional yield and nutritional benefit that GM crops can bring, they’re absolutely not. Forcing a farmer to buy new seed every year, at a cost much higher than similar non-GM crops, is going to price out of the market the exact people GM (in an ideal world) should be helping.

    It also means that new research will focus on the applications of GM technology that matter most to western farmers who can afford to buy the patented seed (e.g. herbicide resistance to reduce chemical expenses instead of introducing vitamin precursors to prevent malnourishment), and also the crops that they want to grow. (Millions of Africans subsist on cassava, a crop that gives poor yield and is very susceptible to disease, insects and drought, but there is fuck-all research going on to GM better varities of it because agribusiness isn’t interested and the public sector are focussing on the bigger crops like maize and rice due to scarcity of funding.)

    So I suppose my position is: I can see why patents are necessary when agribusiness creates innovations, but there needs to be more public sector research where patents aren’t so much of an issue, especially when it comes to crops/applications of most importance to the developing world. Agribusiness isn’t going to turn around and invest millions of dollars into a starving farmer in Ethiopia, and I don’t think we can expect them to. But that research still needs to be done.

  171. ^ Absolutely. I’m totally with you. Its important to remember that while it is unfortunate that there are innovations that could help poverty in parts of the world where that technology is prohibitively expensive, that isn’t the fault of the company who invented the technology in the first place. Its unfortunate that people are starving, but if we don’t have patent protection, we wouldn’t have the technological innovation in the first place. People often have the (incorrect) belief that if we do away with patents, everyone will be able to share in the new technology. The fact is that without patent protection, no one would have that technology. So I don’t really see patents as a negative for poor farmers in developing countries, because without IP protection, there wouldn’t be any IP to share (for anyone).

    Perhaps the best solution (which hasn’t been discussed yet) is to have governments BUY the patents to critical, lifesaving inventions, and then go from there.

  172. “Perhaps the best solution (which hasn’t been discussed yet) is to have governments BUY the patents to critical, lifesaving inventions, and then go from there.”

    Interestingly, because of a quirk of our federal system, states cannot be sued for violating patent rights (except in some limited circumstances that are not relevant here). It would be entirely legal for the state of Iowa, say, to establish enormous state farms using RR seed, save some of the seed for subsequent years, and sell the corn. (They might not be able to sell the seed to farmers for subsequent use – there’s a sticky patent law question there that is not yet answered to my knowledge.)

  173. @volcanista – oops, sorry that my comment reopened old (or rather recent) wounds.

    As I already explained, I was not aiming at somebody specifically, I was trying to illustrate that Lume’s comment read very black-or-white to me, as if the only positions on genetic modifications were extreme ones. If my comment left you wanting to point out that there is a middle ground, that is exactly the point I wanted to make.

  174. What the fucking fuck is a Bronx Grape?

    As for myself, I buy – at me local Coop, which sources as much locally and in-state as it possibly can – organic meat in bulk. It’s not grass-fed or anything, but at least it’s hormone and anti-biotic free. And, as it turns out, it’s not only better for you but you get a hella lot more for your money. Frex, for $9 I can get 6lbs of bone in, free range, anti-biotic and hormone free chicken that will easily get me through 5-6 meals, more if I make lots soup from the bones and leftover flesh–ah baby up, gotta go.

  175. Elizabeth,

    The entire point of a patent is that it is enforced/protected by the government. If the government wantonly broke the patent, it would be no different than if patents didn’t exist at all.

    Plus, I don’t think most people are going to jump on the idea of enormous, state-run farms. ;-)

  176. “The entire point of a patent is that it is enforced/protected by the government. If the government wantonly broke the patent, it would be no different than if patents didn’t exist at all.”

    The point is that “the government” is not a monolithic entity. It would not be legal for the [b]federal[/b] government to run a farm without paying the patent holder, but it is for a [b]state[/b] government. I’m not saying this is a good thing from an economic or theoretical perspective, I’m telling you what the actual current US law says (and it probably can’t realistically be changed without a constitutional amendment, either). States can and do violate patents all the time, and there is not one solitary thing a patent holder can do about it. This does not seem to undermine the value of patents in the US too radically now, so it’s not really “no different than if patents didn’t exist at all.”

    Although I agree that people aren’t going to jump on enormous state-run farms, especially right out of the gate. If it started as a portion of state food assistance, though, I could actually see it getting started on a small scale and then growing.

  177. Napping baby = bloggy goodness:

    1st, can I just be thankful for coming to the realization that just because I’m poor, that doesn’t mean I should feel guilty every time I buy a book for my son or a shirt for work?

    2ndly, as someone who’s just qualified for Food Stamps I’m absolutely thrilled to be getting that extra $57 a month. I’m earning almost $1000 a month, net, now, and trying to take care of everything – me, baby, stay-at-home husband, gas, bills – on that amount is pretty crazy. While I earn a great wage, I only work part-time, splitting the full-time position with another mom (single, w/ 2 kids). My son is too young for me to work full time, but I’m lucky that my husband is willing to watch him while I’m at work (also, we live in a rural area w/no public transpo, we only have one care, he doesn’t drive). So anyway, you’ll all be amused to know that last year, when I was earning $450 a month – a month – I wasn’t eligible because of my husband’s saving account – which is in another country. So, thank you, Obama Administration, for doing away with that whole ‘saving’s accounts = income’ nonsense. That also made me ineligable for Fuel Assistance (thanks, Mom…I’m glad you get a pension, but it sucks that you spent $2800 of it on me).

    Can I get a shout out for Vermont WIC? Seriously, you fucking rock. Getting Cabot cheese, milk, 3 different kinds of juice, heaps of beans, tuna, carrots (okay, 2lbs of carrots a month is just too many) 2 1/2 doz eggs, cereal, peanut butter – fuck me, you’ve even got options for vegetarians. And vouchers for the farmer’s markets in summer. I heart Vermont WIC.

    So yeah, I’m going to spend that $57 buying meat at my local Coop, which means I won’t have to buy meat for that month, maybe even a little longer if I plan right. Which means I can try and pay down my credit card debt, which keeps expanding despite my best efforts.

    And seriously, wtf is a Bronx grape?

  178. Elizabeth,

    I’ll be the first to admit I know nothing about the ability of states to break patents, so I’ll have to take your word for it. Regardless, I don’t think the role of patents in technological innovation is diminshed.

    Either way, I don’t think a state-run, patent-breaking agricultural operation is a goal worth pursuing.

  179. Turns out Bronx grapes were one of the first breeds of seedless grapes. They don’t do so well in the eastern U.S., but are grown in California. Which would be why Alice Waters was talking about them; if she lived on the East Coast, it would be Concord grapes or some such.

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