We have a friend and neighbor in Seattle who writes a delightful blog on food and recipes. She’s a terrific cook, with an extraordinary attention to detail. We’ve been treated to exquisite meals—which she often considers experiments—combining organic cheese from one specialty store, beef from another, salt from another, and fresh produce from still another. For the most part, these products are grown and produced locally.
As a policy, when our friend invites us to come over to try out her latest experiment, we drop everything and go. Such meals are wonderful for the guests, but they’re also time-consuming and expensive for the cook. You need extra time, money, and culinary discernment to pull them off. And they’re much more feasible in the mild coastal climates of Seattle or Santa Barbara than in, say, Fargo or Fairbanks.
Food finickiness, in other words, is a luxury, not a mandate. Most people couldn’t indulge it even if they wanted to. Our friend keeps this in perspective. In recent years, however, the locavore, foodie lifestyle has transmogrified from what it obviously is—a luxury—into a quasi-spiritual ideology resembling late-stage environmentalism. In a recent story in Time magazine, in fact, “Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Environmental Movement,” Bryan Walsh argues:
Even as traditional environmentalism struggles, another movement is rising in its place, aligning consumers, producers, the media and even politicians. It’s the food movement, and if it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another. To its most ardent adherents, the food movement isn’t just about reform — it’s about revolution.
Walsh is clearly an enthusiast, so you’d think he would try to hide the fact that these preferences are extravagances. But instead, he admits it right upfront:
Why has the food movement sprouted so rapidly, even as traditional environmentalism has stalled? Simple: it’s about pleasure. Before the political games, before worries about dead zones and manure lagoons, before concerns about obesity and trans fat, the food movement arose around a simple principle: food should taste better.
But that admission makes his claims about the environmental benefits of such pleasures even more implausible than they would be otherwise. The truth is, if we abandoned industrialized farming and everyone adopted the locavore lifestyle, the human race would be much poorer, and several billion people wouldn’t have food. Unfortunately, the locavore ideology is spreading a lot faster than economic common sense. So I’m glad to see that there’s at least one group that is analyzing the movement. It’s called Truth in Food.
Still, I suspect Walsh is right about one thing: we should expect to see more and more environmental causes packaged in foodie form, if only because everyone would like to believe that indulging in expensive luxuries can somehow save the planet.