I had promised to include good things that are happening too. On Thursday (March 24th) there's an event in Charlottetown that celebrates local food, the actual eating of, and informed discussion about its importance. It's called a Local M.E.A.L. and begins at 6:30 at the Farm Centre on University Avenue in Charlottetown. A number of speakers including farmers will present their take on local food, in short (6mins, 40 second) chunks. A good chance to eat well, and share ideas. Everyone is invited.
And New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman has come up with a list of the positive things he sees out there. You can go to the Times from another site without hitting its paywall so I've included the link and the story. These are obviously American examples, but there are very similar trends here, and certainly growing numbers of people thinking about and acting on their beliefs about what a secure food system looks like, from both the consumer and producer's point of view.
March 22, 2011, 8:30 pm
Food: Six Things to Feel Good About
By MARK BITTMAN
The great American writer, thinker and farmer Wendell Berry recently said, “You can’t be a critic by simply being a griper . . . One has also to . . . search out the examples of good work.”
I’ve griped for weeks, and no doubt I’ll get back to it, but there are bright spots on our food landscape, hopeful trends, even movements, of which we can be proud. Here are six examples.
• Not just awareness, but power | Everyone talks about food policy, but as advocates of change become more politically potent we’re finally seeing more done about it. Late last year, public pressure enabled the federal government to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which will improve school food, and the Food Safety Modernization Act, which will make food safer. (Gripe alert: Neither is perfect, and it’s easy to be critical of both — the child nutrition bill, for example, may be partially funded by a cut to food stamps — but they mark real progress and increase the possibility of further reform.) Combined with increasingly empowered consumers and a burgeoning food movement (one that Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh suggests has the potential to surpass and save the environmental movement), guarded optimism is called for, especially with the farm bill up for renewal in 2012. If the good guys fail to make some real gains there I’ll be surprised.
• Moving beyond greenwashing | Michelle Obama’s recent alliance with Wal-Mart made even more headlines than the retailer’s plan to re-regionalize its food distribution network, which is if anything more significant. The world’s biggest retailer pledged to “double sales of locally sourced produce,” reduce in-store food waste, work with farmers on crop selection and sustainable practices, and encourage — or is that “force”? — suppliers to reconfigure processed foods into “healthier” forms. (Yes, I think this last is ridiculous, but today I’m all sweetness and light.) Not to be outdone, just last week, McDonald’s made a “Sustainable Land Management Commitment.” We can and should be skeptical of these pronouncements, but the heat that inspired these two giants to promise change may insure that they follow through. As for the First Lady: “Let’s Move” has helped insert food squarely into the national conversation: everyone from Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh to Stephen Colbert talks about it, and even Ms. Palin’s nonsensical comments provoke sensible reactions. And it’s difficult to find a school where someone isn’t gardening.
• Real food is spreading | There are now more than 6,000 farmers markets nationwide — about a 250 percent increase since 1994 (significant: there are half as many as there are domestic McDonald’s), and 900 of them are open during the winter. They’re searchable too, thanks to the USDA. (Community Supported Agriculture programs — CSAs — and food coops are also searchable, courtesy of localharvest.org.) Furthermore, serious and increasing efforts are being made to get that food to the people who really need it: Wholesome Wave, for example, began a voucher program in 2008 that doubles the value of federal food stamps (SNAP) at participating farmers markets; that program has grown more than tenfold in less than three years.
• We’re not just buying, we’re growing | Urban agriculture is on the rise. If you’re smirking, let me remind you that in 1943, 20 million households (three-fifths of the population at that point) grew more than 40 percent of all the vegetables we ate. City governments are catching on, changing zoning codes and policies to make them more ag-friendly, and even planting edible landscaping on city hall properties. Detroit, where the world’s largest urban farm is under development, has warmly and enthusiastically embraced urban agriculture. Other cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia (more on Philly in a week or two), New York, Toronto, Seattle, Syracuse, Milwaukee and many more, have begun efforts to cultivate urban farming movements. And if local food, grown ethically, can become more popular and widespread, and can help in the greening of cities — well, what’s wrong with that?
• Farming is becoming hip | The number of farms is at last increasing, although it’s no secret that farmers are an endangered species: the average age of the principal operator on farms in the United States is 57. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently noted that our farmers are “aging at a rapid rate,” and when he asked, “Who’s going to replace those folks?” it wasn’t a rhetorical question. But efforts by nonprofits like the eagerly awaited FoodCorps and The Greenhorns, both of which aim to introduce farming to a new generation of young people, are giving farming a new cachet of cool. Meanwhile, the Nebraska-based Land Link program matches beginning farmers and ranchers with retirees so that the newbies gain the skills (and land) they need.
• The edible school lunch | The school lunch may have more potential positive influences than anything else, and we’re beginning to see it realized. The previously mentioned child-nutrition bill sets better nutrition standards for school meals and vending machines and increases the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. U.S.D.A. is also behind the “Chefs Move to Schools” program, which enlists culinary professionals to help revamp nutrition curricula and the food itself; around 550 schools are participating. Independent of the Feds, many chefs have been moving to schools on their own. Bill Telepan’s Wellness in the Schools, for example, is working with public schools in New York City, while “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper, who remade Berkeley’s school lunch, is taking on the much more challenging program in Boulder, and succeeding. There are scores of other examples, and we’re finally seeing schools rethinking the model of how their food is sourced, cooked and served, while getting kids to eat vegetables. That’s good work.