Issue 15 Editor's Letter

By Mark Spellun

When I was growing up in the ’70s, our standard family meal was frozen vegetables, freeze-dried mashed potatoes, and broiled steak. Never out of season, produce in a box was cheap and thought to be a healthy alternative since the vitamins were being preserved at peak freshness. The concepts of organic food and buying local hadn’t really entered into the national consciousness yet. My mother prepared dinner in about 15 minutes, which didn’t mean it was made without love. Times were just different.

Tastes started to change quickly. The ’80s were all about salad and pasta. Steak was out, and low-fat carbo-loading was in. Then, of course, steak made a comeback with the high-protein diets of the ’90s such as Atkins. These diet fads reveal a consistent trend:  People are finally becoming informed about what they are consuming and how they’re feeding their families.

Of course, humankind by necessity is food obsessed. But the way we talk about food reflects the luxury of being able to consider it as more than just sustenance. The products we choose are more often than not a moral, ethical, or political statement.  We want our food to not offer just nourishment, but also an experience. The evidence is everywhere, from the eye-candy visual thrill of Whole Foods’ produce displays to the food-porn sensibility of shows like Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian. People are even taking culinary vacations. (Check out eight of our favorites, starting on page 60.)

This is not to say that our economy has transformed into a locally grown, organic utopia. Sales of organic food are growing by around 20 percent annually, but overall, organics are only 2 percent of the market. Big Ag still dominates.

But more than ever before, people are looking critically at what they bring home and the effect it has on the overall economy and the environment. The success of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Marion Nestle’s What to Eat points to a new trend: Consumers are trying to learn more about where their food comes from and how it is made.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of easy answers. We will have some big hurdles to overcome in the years ahead, as global warming affects weather patterns and our ability to grow food (“An Uncertain Harvest,” page 44). And locally grown food that’s delivered inefficiently can leave just as big a carbon footprint as food shipped from across the country. Still, the growth of the organic sector is helping to breathe life into family farms (“It’s a Family Affair,” page 38) and today’s consumer awakening is a good sign that more changes are to come.

I usually spend the same 15 minutes my mother did putting together dinner, but I’m lucky: There is a great organic market near my home. And if I want more variety, there are several other options that aren’t too far out of my way. Organic markets aren’t yet as prolific as Starbucks, but it probably won’t be long until Starbucks goes organic as well. They’re already getting rid of trans fats.

Our habits don’t necessarily have to change that much, but our consumption can.

Issue 25

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