Too Much Green For Sustainable Food – Section Two

Appetizers at a Dinners at the Farm dinner.

Appetizers at a Dinners at the Farm dinner.

Slow food, another of the popular green food phrases, is sustainability in action. Slow Food is an international non-profit organization founded in 1989, with over 100,000 members in 132 countries and country, state, and city chapters.

Members pay a $60 membership fee and become part of a local chapter that participates in local, regional, national, and international events celebrating and promoting slow food.

According to Slow Food USA, “Slow Food USA envisions a future food system that is based on the principles of high quality and taste, environmental sustainability, and social justice—in essence, a food system that is good, clean and fair. We seek to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive effects of an industrial food system and fast life; toward the regenerative cultural, social and economic benefits of a sustainable food system, regional food traditions, the pleasures of the table, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life.”

In essence, slow food is the activist part of sustainable food.

While the semantics are slightly different, advocates of the environmental food movement share a belief that the food is better for the environment, people, and economy.

“I tell people one of the benefits of sustainable agriculture is it supports local agriculture, preserves the health of the land and preserves farmland,” Barbara Putnam owner of Beaver Meadow Farm in Litchfield, Conn., said.

While awareness of the environmental food movement along with awareness of organic foods is growing, the movement actually has its roots in the 1960s when the 1962 book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published. The result was an increased public awareness of the health and environmental affects of agricultural pesticides.

Seventy years later, the environmental food movement is more popular than ever, if at all evident by the Dinners at the Farm August event. Guests came from all parts of Connecticut, surrounding New England states, even a couple from San Diego, Calif. and London, England. But in addition to sharing a love of local food, the majority of the guests were white, well educated and wealthy.

The dinners don’t come cheap. Connecticut’s Dinners at the Farm ranges in price from $100 to $150 per person, and Outstanding in the Field’s run from $180 to $220 per person. While Dinners at the Farm donated $25,000 of the proceeds this year to charities in Connecticut working to promote local food, the cost does nothing to dispel the idea that sustainable food is for the rich and not the masses.

Still, Paulson says the majority of the money collected from the dinners goes to towards operational costs.

“This is not a money making enterprise, it is designed to generate awareness about where our food comes from and to foster a connection with the land,” Michelle Paulson of Dinners at the Farm said.

Even though sustainable food is healthy for consumers, the environment, animals, farmers, and local communities, is it feasible in a recession? Is sustainable food healthy for consumers’ wallets?

Food guru and journalist Michael Pollan, who has written a number of now infamous books on food policy and American food culture doesn’t seem to think there is anything wrong with paying more for local food. Pollan attempted to explain the logic of paying more for sustainable food in a Wall Street Journal article last summer, “A Dozen Eggs for $8? Michael Pollan Explains the Math of Buying Local.” Pollan suggested a rule should be “pay more, eat less,” of local food which he and other local food advocates say is healthier for consumers and the environment But just why does sustainable food cost more and is it really better than the mass produced industrialized food Americans seems to be hooked on?

Demand for local food, and its popularity, is increasing. According to the Agricultural Marketing Service, in 1994 there were 1,755 farmers markets in the country. In 2012, there were 7,864, a more than 400 percent increase.

The amount of Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSAs), where people pay a certain amount for a weekly share of fresh produce, is also increasing. According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, CSA farms in the state grew by 35 percent in 2009 alone. Local Harvest, a non-profit organization that provides information and a directory of farms across the country, says the CSAs first started in the US in the 1980s, and today there are more than 5,000 CSAs listed on the Local Harvest directory.

Markets such as Whole Foods have built a reputation on labeling and sourcing local food products and being a socially responsible business. Whole Foods Markets, which started in Austin Texas in 1980, now has over 300 stores in the US, Canada, and United Kingdom.

Still, in July 2012 the International Food Information Council Foundation released the 2012 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition and Health. That while 2/3 of Americans thinks about the sustainability of their foods less than half regularly by locally produced foods and beverages. It’s hard to know exactly why the increase in number of farmers markets hasn’t led to a corresponding increase in the percentage of people who routinely shop at them. In addition to the limited product availability and dependence of the seasons, one of the main reasons is the higher cost.

There is a common perception, perhaps real, perhaps imagined, that sustainable local food is overly expensive and therefore unattainable for the vast majority of Americans. In many ways that perception is wrong, but in some ways it is also correct.

The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) conducted a study between 1980 and 2006 on the prices of so-called healthy foods—fruits, vegetables and the prices of an unhealthy diet composed mainly of junk food. Researches concluded, “The price of a healthy diet has not changed relative to an unhealthy diet.”

Over the past decade the environmental movement has begun to include food. We constantly hear buzzwords such as eating sustainably, locally and organically. The pros and cons of local food are debated heavily, as is their expense. This piece, broken up into several different parts, traces the production of farm-to-table food in Connecticut, its benefits and cons and provided thoughts on whether our the local food movement is scalable. Read Section One.

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