Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's cool to care.

I've mentioned before how it was the environmental sustainability arguments for vegetarianism that finally got me to drop the "I'm against animal cruelty, but I like the taste of meat" bullshit, and become a vegetarian. Though the aforementioned post was made in January of this year, I made my decision to stop eating meat almost two years ago (though, as I've said before, I made the dietary gradually so as to ensure that I did it healthily and that I didn't feel like I was really depriving myself of anything.)

Well, apparently, I'm ahead of the curve. Conscientious eating is cool--even for the gourmet set:

Peter Hoffman, whose organization Chefs Collaborative works to promote connections between restaurants and small farmers, defines sustainable cuisine as "following practices and management techniques that don't take any more from the world than they put back." An umbrella concept that incorporates the best from a number of movements, this is the latest food-world trend, and it's poised to enter the mainstream. "There's a whole new level of awareness," says Hoffman. "People want to understand how they're participating in the global food supply." And if they can do it while eating dishes like roasted pork loin with black beans and baby ramps, served at Hoffman's Manhattan restaurant, Savoy, all the better.


Increasingly sophisticated about food, they have begun to crave a more informed, meaningful gastronomic experience. "People want to reconnect with the source of their meal," says Dan Barber, a New York-based chef and strong supporter of local farms. "It adds romance, makes it taste better."

The organic craze was the first wave of this new awareness. But as government regulation has broadened the meaning of this term and diminished its value (a recent move by the USDA to further relax organic standards was, thankfully, dropped after a huge outcry), a diverse group of organizations have filled the vacuum. Slow Food, founded in Italy, focuses on rescuing traditional artisanal products, such as handmade salamis and raw-milk cheeses, from growing homogenization. Barber's latest venture, the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, is the ultimate experiment in cooking locally: A branch of his successful Manhattan restaurant, Blue Hill, is nestled on an 80-acre Westchester farm, which supplies food for the restaurant. And Waters, the movement's patron saint, is still going strong. She has created a student-staffed teaching garden at a Berkeley middle school, and works with school districts around the country to include more natural ingredients in their cafeteria food.

The term that unites all these agendas is "sustainability." It's a tall order, but, according to Barber, both fulfilling and attainable. "In our culture, we associate doing good with sacrifice," he says. "But here's an opportunity to combine morality with pleasure. You can cast a vote with every piece of food you buy, choosing what kind of world you want to live in. And you can make an enormous difference."

[Read the whole article, complete with tips for incorporating considerations of environmental sustainability into the way you look at food, here]

It's nice to see the article's hat-tip to Oldways, who has had a link in my sidebar since I foud out it existed three or four years ago.

Anyway, while I've always liked cooking and food, if you think I've been giving even more thought to these matters recently, you're right. It's hard not to, though. When you choose a diet to fit your politics, your ideals, it's no longer a just a diet; it's a lifestyle. And it's hard not to reflect on ways you can make further improvements, and to look actively for ways to better inform the way you live your life.

Which is why, even though I have a thesis I'm working on and even though I don't anticipate being able to start reading it until July 19th, I bought Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor--and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! yesterday. (Which is why I am particularly looking forward to reading the following chapters in the book: "Who Pays for Your Coffee?"; "What Supermarkets Don't Want You to Know"; "Why Poor Countries Are Poor"; and "Beer, Fries, and Globalization.")

Which is also why I've been eyeing (but the thesis has so far kept me from buying) Food Is Different: Why We Must Get the WTO Out of Agriculture since February, and which is why my eyes lit up when I stumbled across The Ethics Of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter earlier this evening.

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