Michael Pollan, May 21, 2006, NYT Blog
Food From a Farm Near You
Comment by sustainablemom
Several readers of my last few posts about eating locally have asked for some resources. Certainly it can feel daunting to leave the familiar confines of the supermarket, where you can find just about everything you want, arranged according to a comfortingly predictable map. Right there by the electronic doors sprawls the garden of fresh produce, while the dairy and meat cases line the far walls, and the great canyons of processed foods bestride the middle of the supermarket. Foraging for food gets much more complicated when you strike out for the farmers’ market (where they don’t take credit cards and you won’t ever find a shopping cart) or, more adventurous yet, head directly to the farm or sign up to join a C.S.A. These “community supported agriculture” farms offer their “subscribers” a weekly box of seasonal produce (sometimes eggs and meat as well), selected by the farmer and either delivered to your door or collected from a drop-off point. The satisfactions of eating this way — non-industrially — are substantial, but there’s no question it involves more thought and effort.
The way we shop and eat is inextricably linked to the kind of agriculture and food system we have, and we won’t change the one before we change the other. The reason organic food producers industrialized was so they could meet the expectations of the supermarket shopper or, as I prefer to think of it, the industrial eater, which is to say most of us. The industrial eater has come to expect strawberries 12 months of the year; tomatoes in January; apples that have been cleaned, sliced and bagged (everything but chewed and digested!); and dinner entrees pre-cooked and sold in individual, microwaveable portions. It takes a globalized, high-energy and large-scale food chain to meet the expectations of such a consumer. By the same token, building a local and sustainable food system will require a very different kind of consumer.
With the help of journalist Jaime Gross, I’ve put together a list of resources to help readers like “Sustainablemom” navigate the local food landscape, wherever you happen to live. We have found excellent Web sites offering general advice on how to meet the challenge of eating locally (see locavores.com), and others with tools that, if you type in your ZIP Code, will point you to farmers in your area growing pastured chickens or organic produce or grass-finished beef (eatwellguide.com). Some of these resources will take you to organizations that aren’t, strictly speaking, local — they aim to support local farms raising traditional breeds and foodstuffs by linking them, through the Internet, to distant consumers (see heritagefoodsusa.com, below). Slow Food (slowfoodusa.org) calls this kind of trade “virtuous globalization,” since it aims to exploit the reach and power of global commerce to defend local treasures from the rising tide of homogenization. There are more of these resources (as well as a downloadable guide) on the links page of my Web site, michaelpollan.com, and I discuss the political implications of shopping this way in the current issue of Mother Jones.
Center for Informed Food Choices (informedeating.org) advocates a diet based on whole, unprocessed, local, organically grown plant foods; its Web site contains a useful F.A.Q. page about food politics and eating well, as well as an archive of relevant articles.
Eat Well (eatwellguide.com) is an online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs. Enter your ZIP Code to find healthful, humane and eco-friendly products from farms, stores and restaurants in your area.
Eat Wild (eatwild.com) lists local suppliers for grass-fed meat and dairy products.
Food Routes (foodroutes.org) is a national nonprofit dedicated to “reintroducing Americans to their food — the seeds it grows from, the farmers who produce it and the routes that carry it from the fields to our tables.”
Heritage Foods USA (heritagefoodsusa.com) sells mail-order ‘traceable’ products from small farms — maple syrup, pole-caught tuna, grass-fed Kobe beef — whose labels provide every detail about how they were produced.
Just Food (justfood.org) works to develop a just and sustainable food system in the New York City region through projects including City Farms (a New York community garden program) and community supported agriculture (which connects regional farmers with produce-hungry city dwellers).
Local Harvest (localharvest.org) offers a definitive and reliable nationwide directory of C.S.A.’s, farmers’ markets, family farms and other local food sources.
Locavores (locavores.com), based in San Francisco, encourages people to eat only foods produced within a 100-mile radius of home. Their Food Web page offers an abundance of additional resources, including books, articles and Web sites.
Organic Consumers Association (organicconsumers.org), a research and action center for the organic and fair-trade food movement, maintains a comprehensive Web archive of articles about genetically engineered foods, cloning, food safety, organics and globalization.
Seafood Watch (mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp) — a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium designed to raise consumer awareness about the importance of buying seafood from sustainable sources — offers a downloadable, pocket-sized, region-by-region guide to eco-friendly seafood.
Slow Food USA (slowfoodusa.org) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to ecologically sound land stewardship and food production and to living a “slower and more harmonious” life.
Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture (stonebarnscenter.org) is a hands-on educational center and restaurant that aims to demonstrate, teach and promote sustainable, community-based food production on a working farm 30 miles from Manhattan.
Sustainable Table (sustainabletable.org) offers an introduction to the sustainable food movement and the issues surrounding it, plus resources for further investigation (the links for ‘Introduction to Sustainability’ and ‘The Issues’ are good places to start).
The U.S.D.A. Agricultural Marketing Service (ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets) includes a state-by-state listing of farmers’ markets across the United States