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Are Critics Of Local Programs Devoid Of Taste Buds?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 1, 2010

As part of our continuing series on local and sustainable, we continue to receive letters related to the series of pieces on the UC Davis/Sodexo procurement system that grew out of a workshop at the PMA Foodservice Conference.

You can see the pieces here:

More On PMA Foodservice…Everyone Is In Favor Of Better Flavor But Is ‘Local’ A Solution Or An Ideology?

Tom Reardon of Michigan State University Speaks Out: Wither Local?

Dissecting The Meaning Of Local, Sustainable And Flavorful

Pundit Mailbag — Taste Trumps Over ‘Local’

Here is another one… this one from a most interesting individual:

Have you personally ever conducted a blind taste test from a selection of food that has been shipped long distances, even though it’s organic; of conventional produce that has traveled equal distances, and from local, organic produce obtained from within a 100-mile food shed?

I’m part of a small discussion group working with a course guide “Menu for the Future.” Last night’s discussion focused on U.S. farm subsidies, trade policy as it relates to food, and our choices to support local, organic and available from within our 100-mile Philadelphia food shed.

There is a connection between natural flavor, freshness, and nutrient content. Food that is devoid of nutrients tastes like cardboard, or has no taste and very little aroma/flavor. Food that isn’t fresh — having lost nutrient content on a long road trip — tastes different from food that I grow in my home garden.

It would seem conventional agriculture, some Ivory Tower types, “experts” and those committed to intellectual evaluation of metrics have simply lost their taste buds.

If eating local, organic and sustainable food and keeping food dollars in micro-economies does end up “impoverishing us,” at least we’ll just be poor, rather than poor and sick.

You have to be blind to dismiss the correlation between the diminishing quality of mass-produced edible product and the steadily climbing chronic health issues in this country, including a down-tick in the life expectancy of Americans.

Sure, $1.2 billion is a drop in the bucket, but it won’t take more than a decade to reach a tipping point in our food system — despite the billions of dollars being spent to keep us addicted to edible products that are killing us — while someone else makes a tidy profit.

Kudos to U.C. Davis for responding as much to native intelligence and body-based experience of its food consumers as it is responding to metrics and disembodied intellectual discussions completely devoid of taste buds and any sense of natural health.

Anaiis Salles
Grass Roots Organizer
Menu for the Future Collaboration

Ms. Salles is a highly creative person and she explains herself this way:

In 1999, Anaiis withdrew from public life as a healer and teacher to focus on her continued personal healing/transformational path, preparing for the energy shifts in collective consciousness that would follow the emerging national moral and spiritual crisis of 9/11.

Now with the economic collapse of the United States upon us, as her spiritual teachers assured her would happen, as she witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Anaiis is returning to public life as a transformational guide for the upcoming bloodless revolution in America.

She is obviously sincere and she is committed. We think all that is terrific, and we think she should eat whatever she chooses from wherever she prefers.

What Ms. Salles is not, however, is analytical… or persuasive to people who think differently from her ways.

Whether Ms. Salles or the Pundit prefer food from a local area isn’t important. We all have preferences. The question is, in fact, whether there is some public policy at issue to justify overriding people’s preferences.

In other words, if the issue is that when UC Davis puts on its menu, “Beets grown within 50 miles of campus,” the beets sell better — then there is no need for a ”buy-local” policy. Nobody argues against buying those products that sell well.

The question is really very different: When the students want and would pay for grapes in the winter — should that decision be made verboten? When a local grower has unattractive apples that don’t sell very well when put side by side with those from a commercial growing regions, is there a reason to ban the apples people elect to buy?

The problem is that Ms. Salles states things without evidence:

1) There is a connection between natural flavor, freshness and nutrient content.

Perhaps, but it is quite unclear what that connection is. Many nutritionists will actually praise frozen foods that are harvested at peak of freshness and immediately frozen as preserving nutrients.

Even if true, how significant is the loss of nutrient content?

And aren’t there lots of nutrients in items not grown within the “Philadelphia food shed” — say citrus?

2) Food that is devoid of nutrients tastes like cardboard, or has no taste and very little aroma/flavor.

Note how Ms. Salles leapt from a plausible point — that there may be nutrition degradation during a long journey — to the completely implausible “food that is devoid of nutrients.”

3) Food that isn’t fresh, having lost nutrient content on a long road trip, tastes different from food that I grow in my home garden.

This is in line with common experience. But note the leap from commercial production to a home garden. Even local farmers often wind up putting product on a journey to a depot or an auction. Local farmers, it turns out, cannot harvest every piece of fruit at its peak of ripeness. They have constraints of labor and equipment just like national shippers.

Also note that “different” and “better” are not synonyms.

4) It would seem conventional agriculture, some Ivory Tower types, “experts” and those committed to intellectual evaluation of metrics have simply lost their taste buds.

No, not really. The world population is expected to be about ten billion people in 2050. Those who have the job of feeding those people, have to consider taste as one among many concerns.

Ms. Salles, who has no such responsibilities, can tend her garden with heirloom varieties.

5) If eating local, organic and sustainable food and keeping food dollars in micro-economies does end up “impoverishing us,” at least we’ll just be poor, rather than poor and sick.

Here Ms. Salles makes another leap — she claims that produce shipped from outside her “foodshed” makes people sick — a proposition for which there is no evidence.

6) You have to be blind to dismiss the correlation between the diminishing quality of mass produced edible product and the steadily climbing chronic health issues in this country, including a down-tick in the life expectancy of Americans.

Once again, there is no evidence, just an assertion that one has to be “blind” to disagree with Ms. Salles.

The truth is that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1900 the life expectancy of Americans has increased from 47.3 years to 77.8 years. The World Bank says that since 1960, the life expectancy at birth has gone from just under 70 years to 78.4 years.

Whatever the drawbacks to our industrial society may be, en toto, it results in greater longevity for people, not less.

7) Sure, $1.2 billion is a drop in the bucket, but it won’t take more than a decade to reach a tipping point in our food system — despite the billions of dollars being spent to keep us addicted to edible products that are killing us — while someone else makes a tidy profit.

That $1.2 billion is a reference to a statistic quoted by two UC Davis faculty members in their letter to the Pundit. It refers to the direct-to-consumer sales of agricultural products.

So, we take it that Ms. Salles is claiming that in 2020 the majority of food products will be sold directly to consumer from farmers and producers. We would take that bet. It seems highly unlikely — and it has nothing to do with anyone wanting to keep people addicted to anything. It has to do with cost and efficiency and people’s desire to eat products that are not always produced locally.

8) Kudos to U.C. Davis for responding as much to native intelligence and body-based experience of its food consumers as it is responding to metrics and disembodied intellectual discussions completely devoid of taste buds and any sense of natural health.

Of course since “native intelligence” and “body-based experience” are both completely subjective concepts, there is no way to ever-evaluate such a decision. One wonders what Ms. Salles would say if the university said that the “body-based experience” of the student body was that they really enjoy canned Le Sueur Peas

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One wonders if Ms. Salles has considered the damage she might do. What if she is successful and persuades everyone that only fresh produce, only organic, only grown within 100 miles, is acceptable. When consumers can’t get that or can’t afford it — what happens then? Do they starve? Or do they eat Haagen-Dazs instead? And are any of the options better than the options they have right now?

*******

Nowadays, the Pundit is something of a foodie, enjoying all kinds of specialty items, heirloom, local, organic, all kinds of stuff. But growing up, we ate in the school cafeteria and it was fine. The Pundit Momma used plenty of canned and frozen vegetables and made mashed potatoes from a box called Hungry Jack’s, and that was all fine as well.

We wish Ms. Salles well, and we are glad she can find and afford the local food she likes. We doubt that human happiness will be increased by telling the world that the only good food is food they can’t possibly all have.

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