Monday, October 18, 2010
Something that I hear over and over again in relation to food production is: "They just don't do it that way anymore and that's why it "doesn't taste good"... "isn't good for you"... etc.
This usually comes up in conversation when people are talking about things like processing meat, heirloom tomatoes or pressing oil or picking fruit by hand or even making jam.
Here's a good example: I have a black walnut tree, one of many native to the riparian floor of the San Joaquin Valley. The nuts are delicious, but why can't you buy them? They're healthy, tasty and native. Win win right? Well, here's the reason. To get those nuts out of their shell, which is hard as a rock, you've got to develop a pretty special machine. And you've got to convince people that buying broken up pieces of nut with bits of shell is worth the cost of growing the nuts, shaking them down to the ground, picking them up, bringing them to this machine and then packaging, selling, and doing the paperwork. The numbers just don't add up.
But pounding a few in a molcajete for my family to eat in front of the wood burning stove some winter evening does.
This also goes for things like fruit wine or peach or grape jam. Making homemade jam without pounds of sugar and artificial jelling agents is labor intensive. Straining the seeds, preparing pounds and pounds of fruit, cooking it down to the right consistency, this takes a lot of time. It's much easier to mechanize the process, add the sugar and the dextrose and be done with it. We've done this to so many foods that it's hard to know what the original, pre-mechanized/mass produced version even tasted like.
There is a future where no one will remember what a tomato ripened on the vine will taste like.
That's a future that scares me.
But there is a flip side to this. Without some level of mechanization, even us purists won't be able to grow and harvest the food that we do. We need transplanters and tree shakers and mills with stainless steel tanks and large vats and centrifugal force separators to produce the oils and nuts and vegetables we eat. There's no way we want to go back to the stone mill or the slave like labor needed to bring in the harvest. Do we want to go back to picking cotton by hand? Hauling water in buckets from a stream? The inevitable famines that came like clockwork whenever the rains didn't come? Do we want to go back to the times of pre-irrigated agriculture?
I don't think so.
The challenge that we face in this future of genetically modified tomato genes to produce red pigmentation in response to chemical fumigation, herbicide resistant soya and safflower is to assess what levels of mechanization are actually truly efficient. By efficient I'm not talking about profit or capital. I'm talking about the big picture: meaningful work, jobs with a living wage, poverty, water quality and proper use of resources. Knowing that not all resources are renewable or expendable. That open land does not always need "something done with it." That the lands we do have in production be densely cropped with many different food crops instead of just one crop, once a year. Realizing that meat is a more efficient caloric source than it's vegetable equivalent, given that it is raised on pasture and as part of the ecology, not separated from it. Recognizing that all people need access to a horizon free of man-made artifacts. The ability to leave some of this planet free of our touch. Not as a park or as a zoo. A truly free place. If we lose this, we lose ourselves.
Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org at 11:19 AM