Beyond the Commodity : Food

I read the article ‘What Isn’t for Sale’ in The Atlantic.  On some level it strikes a cord with me.  Read it ; read on.

I’ll step in as a celeb shot for the author and emphatically express that it might be positive for food to make the list.  Food is so real.  Food is our packet of sunlight, the part we get to taste.  Food is central to the human experience.  Why are we selling food?  Seriously, why?  And why do you buy it?  Why do you buy food?

I don’t know…is all food created equal?  Is the organic actually better than the conventional?  What about tilling, is that affecting anything?  Is the soil alive?  Does it matter if the soil is alive?  Is frozen pizza the same level as your favorite place?  How can we feed the cities?  What about rice and beans?  Are you absolutely mad?  Does stress affect the quality of the meat?  What would it be like to exist merely in a contained area, with friends, who are suffering in equal parts to you?  How did they do it 200 years ago?  I don’t know, probably slow.

Look, a candy bar isn’t a diet, and not all food is created equal.  The agriculturalists and cuisine-folk will share stories that are so unique as to be irreplaceable.  Food is not created equal because the ingredients that we choose from alchemate into a novelty, and to some extent, an identity.  Can you feel so much over a food item that you’d include it in what you are, what constitutes who you are?  Do you feel that way about a diet?

Let’s imagine for a second, that the etymology of diet was ‘way of life’.  At some point, diet was what you would consider a way of life.  Today, a diet can and will end, for someone out there.  No doubt this person could have undergone something truly life changing, or lived this day slightly more devious than another.  But the question is what does a change in diet mean for you?  Has diet ever changed your life?

I suppose I might garner a reputation for snobbery at some point in my life.  Though I suppose I might try to avoid that before it happens.  It’s not snobbery, it’s more of an intense interest really.  I eat the chains of distribution while I feast on this neighborhood restaurant.  They are slow to digest and I really had hoped to get enough sleep tonight.

I eat it and I tip well when I can, because to serve those who are faceless can kill a soul.  A fat tip will raise the heart.  The servers are very much stressed.  The cooks, forget them…that was an exercise in management, how you answer will effect the fecundity of your business.  That and if you choose to look at the restaurant as a business or not.

I like good food, seed to swallow and beyond.  Some of the best food I’ve had came with some soil hanging off it.  I felt good about the taste, the atmosphere, and the story.  It’s almost mythic, seeing a lifecyle from beginning to end.  It’s certainly mythic to juice a head sized kohlrabi and drink it slow.  It tastes so sweet, so good, and then there is the broccoli olfactory load.  Perhaps if we can reconcile the power of the broccoli with  the sweet within the kohlrabi, a new tonic will emerge.  Or maybe I’ll suck it up and love it eventually just how it is.

I don’t think I have much of a diet in the traditional sense.  I go to school and work some odd jobs, do design, write and think.  I really just eat what is available.  My mother always used to make these meals with meat, starch, and vegetable.  I can’t say that the Ham Casserole was equal to any other food, or sharing it was equal at every single meal!  She still adheres to the similar pattern, and I feel like I have something like a diet when I’m home.

When I find myself at Sun One, I have another story with those ingredients.  I spent weeks focused on those ingredients.  I spent weeks cooking those ingredients.  I spent weeks trying to sell those ingredients.  And…I didn’t really mind it!  Selling vegetables is fun at farmer’s markets and local markets.  I see that stuff on the shelves in a couple of minutes.  People buy and eat those ingredients.  I don’t know them, but I’m sure they have a nice story about their ingredients.

When a farm doesn’t have to rely on income derived from food production, it eases the burden.  We would most likely decline to comment on our profit margins, but we certainly aren’t going to lose our shirts over it either.  I enjoy the lack of stress, even though I am just an intern and long-term economic viability of the farm doesn’t affect me much.  But for those who do depend on the long-term economic viability of their farm, less stress may be welcomed.

Food isn’t something one will break the bank purchasing.  Some farms don’t find themselves rolling in the dollars shortly after every harvest.  The product is cheap, and the volume is short.  To be successful you need to be savvy.  To be successful you must know your market, know your soil, know yourself.  This could mean specific growing strategies and products.  This could mean micro greens at $50,000/acre , this could mean squash at much below $50,000/acre.

I don’t knock the successful, or the strategies.  It’s a clear example of doing the best with what they’ve got.  Yet, I think there is more to all of this than just succeeding in market gardening/farming.  Putting food into the market is not going to elicit a diet, though it certainly spawns some children of its own.

I have nothing against the diet proposals by various gurus.  Yet, again I fear we’re benefiting from another example of doing the best with what they’ve got.  The market isn’t just in food, it’s in health too.  The diets are commodified like everything else, in ignorance to place and season.  Avocados are great, but I will accept that as I am a resident of New England, they are not practical to become too attached to.

The diet eludes us.  Can you find it for me?  Because I cannot.  Truthfully I haven’t looked that hard, but should I have to look hard for the diet?  What is the diet?  It’s The Diet.

It’s a whole year, with local, seasonal ingredients, satisfying nutritional requirements, all within your region.  The Diet is a holy grail cultural technology that can prove to be a foundation for solving food related issues in the world.  How can I eat January-December?  What kinds of recipes are there?  Is it a way of life?

Grains, Meats, Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Seeds, Ferments, Baked, Canned.  What can we do here?

And it needs to be here, it cannot be anywhere else, it has to be proximal.  The further the food goes, the more it is subject to commodification.  The Diet can build a local food culture, and instill a sense of place and time within the annual cycles.  In a world where it is can be hard to find common cultural grounds with those that live around you, local food will always stand as the great connector.

Face it, your life is civilized and modern.  The history is so complex but food was present every step of the way.  This cultural puzzle still hasn’t been solved.  We still don’t know how to obtain The Diet for our region.  All I know is The Diet won’t be born from market conditions, but from sources beyond.  The market created problems for food and diet, problems that may be unsolvable from the same forces that created it.

Develop The Diet, the way of life, and we will be closer to decoupling food with commodity.

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