Handpicked Pastoral Adjectives

I’m reading Omnivore’s Dilemma. Finally. In it, Pollen coins the term “Supermarket Pastoral” as a way to describe the literature we find in supermarkets, like Whole Foods. I think we can credit sustainability and this movement for great leaps and bounds when it moves into the regular aisles and ads of the grocery store.

08-04 Freddy Ad
Thursday, August 4th an Ad in the Oregonian

Sweet corn, picked, carefully (implied) by tender hands at the exact right moment to ensure the highest quality food. Who wouldn’t want that? The care, the thought, the ability that went into ensuring you and your family had quality food — the feeling is wonder, amazement… love.

08-03 Oregonian Cover
Wednesday, August 3, Oregonian, Front Page

What is this outbreak? Ground turkey? Who? Cargill? Where? Kroger? Wait… didn’t Kroger buy Fred Meyer less than 10 years ago? So, Kroger = Fred Meyer = contaminated meat amidst supermarket pastoral.

Finally, this expectation of quality is at the tips of many. Finally, this (re)awareness of the nastiness in industrial food is at the forefront of our brains. Finally.

But, clearly, we have a long way to go in combating this green washing that attempts to erase our understanding of the nastiness. Every time we remove ourselves from a process… the further away we get from necessary processes in every day life, the less connected we are with our real world.

Think sewer systems. Think about from where you get your milk, eggs, and meat. Think about who makes your vehicle that you drive to work. Think about the job you do at work. Do you have a systems understanding of your role and how it affects your company? Or, are you operating with one very small, very controlled piece?

The less we know about the processes that make our lives work, the less connected we are with our lives.

So, sure, on one hand it’s great that visions of handpicked bounty are falling off the tongues of ad writers for local super markets. There is a suggestion in its being there that we want to be connected to our food, to that which sustains us.

But, when we read the day before about the outbreak of salmonella in ground turkey, we need to remember that we are still hiding things. In an effort to be healthy, ground turkey is often sold as a great, lean option, alternative to the fatty, heart disease, mad cow ridden ground beef. But, neither really answers the question of what is healthy. We have these tests by which we measure very specific things (heart disease) and link it narrowly to others (fat content) without thinking about how varied people are and how perhaps diversity of product is more important. We are trading cheap ground beef for cheap turkey and we get another devastating result: diseased food that still makes us sick even if it doesn’t give us heart disease.

Beware of handpicked pastoral adjectives, as often, while increasing the awareness and importance of the topic, it’s slight of hand, green washing gone mad. The best way to get handpicked produce is to pick it yourself. I’m busy. I struggle with balancing all these visions, ideals and wants with every day reality of naps, dinner, paying bills, and going to work… not to mention how do you find time to spend with your family in a fun sort of way! So, the next best thing is to vet your food with friends. Work together to get the handpicked goodness from local farms you trust. Visit the farms. Visit the farmers. Talk to them. Have conversations with them about how they get it all done. Thank them for providing you with quality food that doesn’t make you sick.

If we get more connected to our places. More connected to our food. More connected to¬† our homes, we can make “handpicked pastoral” a part of our lives. We won’t even need to label it in such quaint terms suggesting a different way of doing things because it simply will be.

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