Sunday, May 18, 2008

"I don't know whether to eat or not"

Is a line from the A.R. Gurney play "The Dining Room." In my case it is perhaps a case or not knowing what to eat. With an impending food crisis about to doom mankind I am feeling a growing responsibility to eat with a social conscious. Trouble is, what exactly does that entail?

The locavore philosophy (see earlier posting in archives about white asparagus) that entertains only local produce does not necessarily ensure superior environmental stewardship; it may yet be better in some cases to ship the same product from a different clime where it grows more energy efficiently. In any event, locavoredom only makes practical sense where you can obtain a diet that is more varied than corn and turnips.

Then there is the whole organic thing. Some folks on the radio this Saturday were celebrating some sort of green festival and were chortling enthusiastically about the growth of organic farming compared with conventional. I don't dispute the claim for the growth; but when you look at the relative quantities, larger growth on a very small amount is not significant. Moreover, anyone who seriously believes that organic farming is the solution to the world's food problems is seriously delusional. Wholefoods may be a great way for the upper middle classes to indulge their self-absorbed, gluttonous cravings, but it is scarcely a practical solution for the world's poor.

My biggest quandary perhaps is the fish. Given the decline in stocks you might have thought the farm-raised fish is the way to go, environmentally responsible and sustainable. Not so goes the argument: appallingly inefficient, unhealthy (all those toxins and metals concentrated therein), not to mention the awful quality. So, should we all be eating line-caught salmon? Preferably served with a video showing its capture, and maybe with a podcast describing its life history (as Charlie Trotter would do). This seems unlikely given that the salmon season in California and Oregon has been canceled because of the low stocks.

Part of the problem with the food crisis is all the uppity Chinese and Indians abandoning their traditional diets in favour of a more western meat-focused one. As an aside, one notes yet again how the much reviled U.S. is being copied by other nations. I have yet to see nations abandoning the western diet in favour of a bowl of rice and a stick of bok choi. And here is the problem: all that meat requires lots of energy and lots of food to grow it. One is forced to the conclusion that all the good foods, meat and fish, must be discarded in favour of more lowly creatures: instead of a salmon, a fistful of sand eels; instead of a steak, a well- washed clump of grass. I'm not sure I'm quite ready for that.

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