Saturday, May 08, 2010

Give me good food with a good story

Where Does Your Food Come From?

That was the above-the-banner teaser in this morning Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The subhead was this:

With hundreds of people sickened by food-borne illness in a spate of recent outbreaks, traceability has become a critical food industry goal.
The story was written by Georgia Gustin of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It begins on an upbeat note with Askinosie Chocolate Factory, which operates out of an historic building in Springfield, Mo. Owner Shawn Askinosie says that he wants to "profit-share with farmers" and tracks his cocoa beans from growers in Eduador to the end product. Using a code on chocolate packages, consumers can go to the company's web site and trace the origins of their treat. Askinosie offers Single Origin Chocolate Bars. One variety is a 77 percent Davao Dark bar from the Philippines. It comes in a brown wrapper with a photo of chief farmer Peter Cruz, his signature and a stamp of authenticity. A map of the farm's location is enclosed. The web site provides a story on the history of cocoa growing in the Philippines.

This is very cool -- and smart. Some may consider it a gimmick, but Foodies like me approve of this tactic. And the writer in me says that a chocolate bar that comes with its own story has my vote.

Why can't we do the same thing with lettuce? The AP sidebar to this story focused on tainted Romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., and shipped to states east of the Mississippi including Florida. Why Florida, breadbasket to the East Coast, requires massive infusions of Arizona lettuce is a mystery.

So is the entire food "industry."

That's the key word -- industry. Ag became an industry and we haven't been safe or even healthy since.

The newspaper story doesn't have an answer. But it does pose some questions.

What if we nurtured and tracked a head of lettuce as Shawn Askinosie does a chocolate bar? Let's say that farmer Peter Cruz grows lettuce on a factory farm in Hot As Hell, Arizona. He nurtures the lettuce stalks as he would his own child. When it comes time to ship a batch to Florida, he labels the hemp bag with a stamp of authenticity which includes his signature and photo. The lettuce goes off to Humid As Hell, Florida, to be sold at $5 per pound.

Oops. Winn Dixie shoppers will probably pass up Peter Cruz's lettuce-with-a-story to cheaper, less wordy, alternatives.

Industry lettuce doesn't have a story. Corporate growers don't have time for creative writing. They want to plant thousands of acres, fertilize the hell out of it, spray it with pesticides, harvest it with illegal aliens from Poor As Hell in Jalisco State, load it in big trucks and ship it off to Florida. This lettuce sells for 99 cents a pound.

It also gives you E. coli.

Quite a bargain.

I am growing my own lettuce this summer in Windy As Hell, Wyoming. It will come with stories because I will insist. I will bore my family with those stories and then will turn on you, my faithful readers. You will not be able to buy my organic, homegrown lettuce because I don't want to buy stamps of authenticity and fancy wrappers. Besides, I don't know if my Romaine will come up this summer. It did last year but one never knows about late frosts and hailstorms.

There are alternatives. Go to your local farmers' market and ask for a story while you buy lettuce and tomatoes and peaches. Sometimes there are good stories and sometimes the sellers look at you funny. Some sellers have no stories because they are hired hands and don't know -- don't want to know -- the real stories. In those cases I say -- move on to the next stall.

You can buy your food from local farms. Many are organic but not all. Join the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs offered by Wolf Moon Farms, Grant Farms and Cresset Community Farm in northern Colorado and Meadow Maid Foods near Yoder, Wyo., which also has grass-fed beef and beef jerky. These are just a few -- new "craft" farmers and ranchers are sprouting all the time.

Each has a story to tell.

1 comment:

bigfrank said...

Might want to tell people to tell them we want our freedom back to chose the food we want.
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