By Brian Small at May 21, 2009
I've been enjoying a lot of local food and community lately, naturally leading to a collection of links on the subject. As always Michael Pollan's material is a good place to start with these issues.
CityBeat: In The Omnivore's Dilemma, you talk about how eating is, in many cultures, a positive act and part of building a community. In America, food is often considered the enemy.
Michael Pollan: Yes, I think we've demonized food. We think about food in terms of evil nutrients and good nutrients, and lose track of the fact that it's a lot more than nutrition. It's a way you build community, it is part of culture, and it helps define culture. To think what it means to be French in the absence of French food, or to be Italian in the absence of Italian food, you'd be missing a big part of [the culture].
The food culture in America was never very strong, but it's been eroded under the pressure of the processed-food industry. They're very interested in changing the food culture, because the food culture gets in the way of eating too much; the food culture tells you don't snack between meals; the food culture tells you eat at a table with other people, not in your car, where [the food industry] is very interested in getting us to eat as much as possible on as many occasions as possible during the day.
I always like eating the food from the forests and mountains, now Michael Pollan says weeds are where the nutrition is. Great. The Great Depression comes and you can feed your family on clover and dandelions.
And I'm sure the people who have been in your area for a long time know all kinds of nice things to eat.
OR: You explain that weeds are actually some of the most nutritious plants because they haven't been cultivated and that the natural pesticides they develop can be converted into positive qualities once consumed.
MP: They don't even have to be converted. The defensive compounds that plants produce to deal with diseases and pests turn out to be some of the most nourishing things in them. That's what a lot of those phytochemicals are. They're plant pesticides, in effect. They happen to be very useful to us and our bodies. One theory is that since organic plants have to defend themselves, they produce more of those compounds. Whereas, if a plant is pampered and gets lots of pesticides, and the farmer takes care of the pests and the disease, the plant doesn't produce all these chemicals that are good for us. There is a theory that stressed vegetables in various ways are more tasty. If you stress a tomato and don't give it enough water and make it fend for itself, it will taste better, and those compounds that make plants taste good are also the same ones that we're talking about here. A certain level of stress in the plant kingdom is good for us.
People are growing food in cities. There was the sad incident in Los Angeles where a developer was tearing down a community garden with traditional latin american plants.... There were other links about Will Allen that were inspiring to, but in the meantime...
forget organic and locally grown food—in America's poorest urban neighborhoods, it's hard to find any affordable fruits and vegetables at all. Six grocery stores serve South Los Angeles' population of 688,000. West Oakland has no supermarkets, but close to 60 liquor stores. But thanks to former nba draft pick Will Allen, a couple of American cities are experiencing a produce renaissance.
Sixteen years ago, Allen gave up a lucrative job working for Procter & Gamble's corporate marketing department to found Growing Power, a tiny working farm in the heart of Milwaukee. "Right down the street was the largest housing project," says Allen. "The major grocery store had pulled out—so I said, 'This should be a great place to sell produce.'" He was right: Today, the farm sprawls across three city acres crammed with livestock pens, fish trenches, worm compost bins, and greenhouses constructed from pipe and plastic sheeting. Selling weekly farm-share boxes for as little as $14, Growing Power is one of the country's most productive urban farms—it sold more than $200,000 worth of produce in 2007, and Allen has recently expanded his operations to Chicago.
Allen's secret? Soil. While most organic farmers buy fertilizer, Allen makes his own with worm compost and fish waste for added nutrients. The recipient of a 2008 MacArthur genius grant, Allen, 60, believes that the key to boosting urban farms is playing not to social-justice concerns, but to bottom-line ones. "Everybody just says, 'Oh, I can't grow organic food cheaper,'" says Allen. "But we don't have to pay $10 a pound for food—I charge $2 a pound and make money. You could be a millionaire."
Wormboxes are fun. I end up getting mini tomatos every year just from the newspaper and kitchen waste that the worms churn up for me. You just move the finished product into a pot in the sun and the tomatos start coming up.