In the past decade, food has become so cheap and abundant that a gradual trend towards the premium and the obscure has dominated the food-scape. As a result, prostrating oneself in front of a food trend – whether it is flirting with veganism or vegetarianism, eating local (i.e. the 100-mile diet), eating organic, eating cruelty-free, eating seasonal, has become the favourite pursuit of the elitist and upwardly mobile.
The politics of food, particularly the inter-generational gap between how our grandparents, versus how we view food, is explored in this excellent essay by Mary Eberstadt. The fictional character, the 30-year-old Jennifer, is representative of urbanites today in her views of food.
Wavering in and out of vegetarianism, Jennifer is adamantly opposed to eating red meat or endangered fish. She is also opposed to industrialized breeding, genetically enhanced fruits and vegetables, and to pesticides and other artificial agents. She tries to minimize her dairy intake, and cooks tofu as much as possible. She also buys “organic” in the belief that it is better both for her and for the animals raised in that way, even though the products are markedly more expensive than those from the local grocery store. Her diet is heavy in all the ways that Betty’s was light: with fresh vegetables and fruits in particular. Jennifer has nothing but ice in her freezer, soymilk and various other items her grandmother wouldn’t have recognized in the refrigerator, and on the counter stands a vegetable juicer she feels she “ought” to use more.
Attaching social norms, moral abstractions, and judgments to this activity:
Jennifer feels that there is a right and wrong about these options that transcends her exercise of choice as a consumer. She does not exactly condemn those who believe otherwise, but she doesn’t understand why they do, either. And she certainly thinks the world would be a better place if more people evaluated their food choices as she does. She even proselytizes on occasion when she can.
But the time of food abundance might soon be over. That is, if Britain’s 20-year food-security manifesto has anything to say about it.
It warns consumers that an overzealous dedication to buying local – and avoiding imported foods – will have a negative economic impact on often poorer exporting countries if the trend continues. The report also takes aim at an over-reliance on “food miles.” For years, laws have mandated that British-sold products be labelled with indicators of their carbon footprint.
However, continuing to use food miles as a main means of calculating the environmental impact of certain foods is not sustainable in the food regime of the future, according to the report, because transport accounts for so little (9 per cent) of the food chain’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
Perhaps the closest glimpse we had of this scarce future was back in early 2008, when food prices shot up across the board, and led to riots in some parts of the world.