I have to admit though, I always had an idea that something was wrong, this nagging suspicion in the back of my head that perhaps we shouldn't be eating tomatoes all year long or that meats should not have long expiration dates on the packages when they had already made a long trek through a processing plant and on a truck and to the pallet to get to the shelf. I swatted these suspicions away, choosing not to know, because it makes it easier right? But I also must fess up that I never found it easy either. Going to the grocery store to pick out my dinner used to be a relatively daunting task for me. I could never figure out, from the endless possibilities, what I wanted to eat. I find that too many choices makes it harder to pick. So all too often I ended up eating dried pasta and sauce from a jar. Easy right? But healthy? Good for the environment? How do you know?
I was raised in a household where most everything was organic. The meat we ate was free-range (back when free-range meant free roaming), and we ate vitamins every day. I always wondered why it mattered so much to eat organic, and when I was old enough to make my own choices about what to eat I of course chose by price. Because they are all the same right? Just one costs less? Then about six months ago I read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dillemma," and that was when suddenly all of my nagging little suspicions all made sense. As much as it pains me to say it, my mother was right (actually, I ALSO have to admit that she is usually pretty much right about everything, which gets to be a little annoying sometimes. ;)). Organic vegetables ARE better. They are better for you they are better for the environment and they are better for our future. And sustainably grown non-monocrop vegetables are even better than organic. At this point you might be saying "WHA?? Who is this hippie chick??". I know, because six months ago that was how I felt, that all tomatoes were the same, and whoever told me different was selling something.
Why is it better? Lots of reasons. Factory farms are the number one reason for water pollution in this country. Yes, you heard it, number one. Normally when cows, chickens and pigs are running around in pastures and woodlands their waste replenishes the ground as fertilizer to grow more of what they eat for the next time they come around. On factory farms the sheer number of animals prevents them from being pastured, so instead they stay inside the barn in very tight spaces and their waste is piled in a shed nearby. The rain comes, and the waste runoff gets into nearby streams and waterways. The excess nitrogen in the water promotes algae blooms which create areas where there is no oxygen in the water . . . thus killing off all other life in those areas. There is a "dead zone" the size of Connecticut right now in the Gulf of Mexico. Similar things happen with industrial fertilizers which are used in an attempt to replenish the nutrients that are stripped from the soil by crops such as corn or soybeans. These plants would not be evil if the crops were rotated (non-monocrop) and plants that replenish the nutrients naturally were grown in their place for a period of time. Because of federal regulations where these plants are subsidized farmers get into a poverty cycle where they have to produce a monocrop to get the subsidies which requires more and more fertilizers and promotes soil deterioration and runoff which reduces crop yield and so on and so forth. Phew!
So why does this matter and how does it have anything to do with Urban Oyster?!? you say. So my fiance and I recently decided to change the way that we interact with the food system. Not the way we eat, but what we purchase and from where and of course it means we are eating seasonally. We eat all of our meats, fish and vegetables from the local farmers markets (only where the farmer's practices are sustainable of course. Amazing, even at the farmers market you have to ask the questions! Do you overtill your soil? What types of fertilizers do you use?) and we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)(actually, multiple potentially . . . did you know that there is a CSA farm serving Williamsburg that serves up sausage, salami, sopressata, and all other yummy things that come from pigs GOURMET STYLE??? Wow!!!). And we have both lost weight and are healthier. It is amazing. The two rounds of flu that went through the office passed right over me! And when you start to look you start to see that there is an entire underground movement to buy and eat food that is separate form the industrial food system that is not unlike the underground craft brew market that is now just beginning to thrive in this country. People realized that beer could taste good, could be good for you, could be different than just piss-water pilsner, could actually taste . . . .well, like beer SHOULD taste! And that is just what is happening with food. Did you know that you can buy tomatoes that do not taste like sawdust and lettuce that does not require dressing . . . .it is so spicy and crisp I throw a little bit of lemon and a touch of olive oil and sea salt and it is a FABULOUS lunch! I cannot believe that this has happened to me. Forget the environmental and health benefits . . . . food tastes . . . . well I think that the word is AWESOME.
And going to the Food and Climate Summit, I realized that we are not alone. Like the craft brewers there is a whole world of people out there that are standing up and demanding that food be produced and delivered in a different way. A way that makes it taste better. A way that does not destroy our world. I just hope that those folks in Copenhagen are standing up and listening.
For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Cate Lloyd.