‘Heirloom Arugula Won’t Save Us’

Seeing that sentence in the new issue of Mother Jones magazine had us doing one of the biggest double-takes ever. Mother Jones – the preferred glossy of anti-burger activists and mercury scaremongers everywhere – is not exactly known for its level-headed take on food issues and politics. But an aptly-named article in the March/April issue, “Spoiled: Organic and Local is So 2008,” is right along the lines of what we’ve been thinking lately about the foodie activist movement.
No one would argue that America’s food system is perfect. But the one-size-fits-all prescriptions that most activists tend to favor – buy all organic, ban soda and snacks, don’t eat meat – are driven by a knee-jerk mentality that always stops short of considering the consequences. Fortunately, writer Paul Roberts is one activist who seems to understand how complicated the health, safety, and environmental issues surrounding food production can be.

When most of us imagine what a sustainable food economy might look like, chances are we picture a variation on something that already exists—such as organic farming, or a network of local farms and farmers markets, or urban pea patches—only on a much larger scale. The future of food, in other words, will be built from ideas and models that are familiar, relatively simple, and easily distilled into a buying decision: Look for the right label, and you’re done.
But that’s not the reality. Many of the familiar models don’t work well on the scale required to feed billions of people. Or they focus too narrowly on one issue (salad greens that are organic but picked by exploited workers). Or they work only in limited circumstances. (A $4 heirloom tomato is hardly going to save the world.)

In other words, Roberts explains, “food is not simple” – which is exactly the opposite of what we hear daily from the diet-obsessed zealots at groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest and PETA.
But we never expected to hear it from Mother Jones.  And in the same week that a New York Times article declared that organic food is no safer than the more affordable kind.
Let’s hope that this sudden renaissance of good judgment a sign that Americans are finally wising up to the absurdity of the sweeping changes that foodies like Alice Waters have been suggesting. Because if not, we’ve just stepped into the Twilight Zone.

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