Where food and ethics intersect


by Jackie Alfonso | March 20, 2009 • Can we begin a serious look at the place where food and ethics intersect? I am thinking about some particular places:

The language that includes the phrase “Snack Foods” as if it were somehow a real thing —

There are snacks, far too many, generally consisting of fats, sugars, and salt. They have, as a rule, no redeeming nutritional value, cost a great deal for empty calories, and substitute far too often for a family meal. We import their constituents, and truck the finished product around the country, so the actual social cost is enormous. Local carrots are snacks that are foods, as are apples.

Some day, pay serious attention to just how much of the grocery is devoted to these items. They are very profitable, consisting generally of corn oil, ground corn, corn syrup — the things feedlots give to beef cattle to fatten them.

The Bottarga question

Italians and others noting in panic the dearth of tuna in Mediterranean waters, after centuries (centuries!) of treating tuna roe as a specialty food, and serving it often. Just what is it that they don’t get? How many other “resources” like Bottarga do we consider to be a right, as we deplete every last one of whatever? Is it really that hard to forego Bottarga in the interests of future tuna? What will it feel like to be the person who eats that last surviving tuna?

If we go there, perhaps it is better that we go the way of the woolly mammoth, if we cannot operate even in our own interests, or even to consider the edges we have crossed.

Once upon a time, Minnesota had a commercial caviar “industry,” like “harvesting” Bottarga, an industry destined for extinction.

If we can begin to think a bit more, perhaps we can actually learn how to behave in our
true best interest.

This week, in part to remind myself, and in part to respond to our great loss, I have been reading the work of Bill Holm. Coming Home Crazy is a snapshot of a recent past, but also of what we all face if we continue to use without paying back, as we have done for so long.

Growing our own food is such a directly rewarding action. We get out in the sun and air, we get to decide precisely where our energy will go, and by the time the snow comes, we will be ready to take care of our needs for several months. We can produce bushels of actual food, we can keep it until we use it up. We can taste flavors that don’t make it through weeks in trucks and in warehouses. We can have delicacies that are otherwise very expensive – raspberry vinegar, sun dried tomatoes, fresh Fava beans, pink celery, Tuscan kale, beautiful garlic that we ourselves improve over time simply by growing it, poppyseed for pastries without a drug cartel profit.

We can select the particular tomato we prefer, that suits our taste and cooking skills, and concentrate on that. We can eat all the asparagus we want for six weeks, and then wait for the next harvest. We can make our own chutney, our own Bar-le-Duc, and improve daily life for ourselves, our families, our friends – and at the same time we can avoid doing yet more damage to this amazing blue marble in space.