A friend of mine shared this article on facebook recently… it brings up a current divide in the Slow Food movement about whether “good, clean, and fair food” also must be expensive. Some pit fair wages for farmers against the needs of those on a budget.
And here’s a response by Slow Food’s president, Josh Viertel, whom I met when I was a youth delegate (youth meaning under thirty, which I was a the time, and delegate meaning we cared enough to get there, and were given spots in the homes of locals to unroll our sleeping bags) at the infinitely inspiring Slow Food Nation event in 2008 that he mentions in the article. He’s in my notes as “the Yale guy” though the direction he’s taken the organization is not the one that that title might suggest.
Edible Gardens in front of City Hall at SFN'08
Three Sisters and the Dome
My thoughts are, you can spend money, or you can spend time. Most people have some of either, or could shift their priorities and make it happen. The trick is making them WANT to make it happen. I’m a member of Slow Food, but only because of their “any gift makes you… a member” campaign, and because I could afford a student membership while in school. I wish the Chicago chapter had more low and no cost events like, say, Madison… about the only events I can afford to attend (or am interested in) are potlucks at the honey coop and whatnot. Expensive dinners downtown? Not in my budget. Unfortunately that’s what most people think slow food is about.
It doesn’t have to be one or the other as the first article suggests… you can support local farmers with fair prices AND eat cheaply. I’ve bought organic wheat for anywhere between forty cents and a dollar a pound by buying bulk 50# bags. You have to buy a mill (get a well-made used one, they last FOREVER) and have a little bit of room to store it, but you get food security (grain in the pantry), food justice (the farmers get the money, not middlemen, and you don’t have to be rich to afford it) AND amazing quality. If you bake no-knead bread, you don’t need a lot of time, skill, or an expensive mixer or bread maker- just an oven safe pot and an oven, about 10 minutes of active time, four ingredients (flour, water, salt and yeast), and a little planning ahead… presto, you now have a $5 loaf (or more) of real bread for pennies.
(one of many excellent how-to’s for this baking technique is here:
No-Knead Bread (this one with walnut fudge chunks- a fantastic save for a batch of siezed candy)
It’s attainable and as cheap or cheaper than ramen (don’t get me wrong, without ramen I would probably not have made it to adulthood, or at least would be skinner and have lower blood pressure, heh… but homemade whole foods are a much healthier alternative). I’d like to see more inexpensive workshops for this sort of thing as activities. I guess that means, get up and make it happen rather than just talk about it, huh.
Organic arugula (or kale, or lettuce, or whatever) from the store is expensive. Organic greens from your backyard are almost free. Good food does not have to cost a lot, and I’m glad they’re breaking this myth down. Yes, if you want to buy the organic equivalents to processed foods, you will break the bank. Learn some life skills (cooking, growing, buying in bulk, menu planning, food preservation) and you can have a rich diet on a poverty pocketbook.
Another friend raised a very valid point: “but one can’t have a rich diet on a poverty pocketbook without a wealth of knowledge which many folks don’t have access to.”
And this is so true. Most people didn’t grow up on farms with quasi-hippie parents and Rodale Press Home Food System encyclopedias on the shelf. I was baking yeast breads at home (which I learned from books- my mom only made quick breads),… reading about cheesemaking and daydreaming about a dairy cow while the pre-teen next to me on the school bus was reading Seventeen. But you don’t have to be that out-there to figure a lot of this out… you do need knowledge, and access to information. We still have libraries, albeit with shorter hours… but most people aren’t going to do this until someone reaches out and shows them first that it’s possible, and second, why they should bother, and then, how. Organizations like Share our Strength do a good job getting kids into the kitchen and cooking from scratch… I realize that a school system that is struggling to get our kids up to snuff on basic reading and math is hard-pressed to fund Home Economics. One of my resolutions for this year is to reach outside my comfort zone and do more teaching and skill-sharing.
Even when you're living paycheck to paycheck, eating should be hand to mouth (or teat to mouth- notice that this milk is bypassing the bucket)... the less steps between your food's origins and you, the more affordable and healthful it is likely to be.
I’ve been thinking a lot about food access, food justice, and the knowledge gap that keeps most folks with limited means from accessing a healthy diet. There’s a heated debate going on in the local food and urban farming community about the best way to address this problem. Our mayor and some others think that getting local foods and fresh foods into Walmart and Walgreens is the easiest solution to the problem. While, yes, this may help put a bandaid on it in the short term, it won’t solve the root problems of poverty that are the real cause of the problem, and the knowledge gap that prevents people from making healthy choices when they are available and affordable. Local businesses with ownership in the community will be better able to meet the needs of their neighbors and keep scarce dollars flowing in the neighborhood economy. No, not every neighborhood can support a Dill Pickle coop, but there has to be a happy middle ground.
People need access to resources and educational programming to teach them how to be more self-sufficient. Growing, cooking, and preserving food at home isn’t hard if you know how… these are basic skills our grandparents had, and vital if we’re going to meet the demand for local healthy food and overcome the health problems associated with poor nutrition- obesity and diabetes are serious problems that can only be solved by changing the way we eat.
This is a really good examination of the issue on a national level: