Ms. Huberdeau writes a great piece
on this year's tomato blight. Usually I get a few hundred pounds of "seconds" from local farmers to make sauce, etc... This year I have only been able to purchase 12 pounds.
Two years ago, she said, the farm harvested so many tomatoes that, after giving the crop shares to their members, they were able to can 50 gallons of sauce for the Berkshire Food Project. In a recent newsletter to farm members, Zasada said the farm would be "lucky to distribute a handful of tomatoes to farm members."
This leads me to another thought about food production in the United States. I have raised the eyebrows of many a foodie when I have been confronted with the absolutism of certain food movements.
As a chef who loves cooking with and promoting local organic agriculture most people assume that I MUST believe certain things about how food must be grown and who should grow it. And, yes, I do think that low-impact, sustainable agriculture (L.I.S.A.) is the ideal, but while it works on the small scale, no one has quite figured out how to feed 6.7 BILLION people effectively exclusively using "natural" methods, not even Michael Pollan.
And Frankly, I am more interested in making sure people don't go hungry.
Sometimes, the perfect is the enemy of the good.
Currently, when it comes to feeding the masses, non-organic farming wins out. I prefer organics. I prefer local. I prefer all sorts of things that are not realistic when it comes to feeding the entirety of New York City or Beijing or Sudan.
No one is going to starve in the Berkshires or the United States because of a regional tomato blight, but around 170 years ago, many of my relatives perished in Ireland because of a single type of crop failure
. And in Africa, the use of fertilizers
and such is one of the main components of warding off famine, pestilence and the violence such strife brings. I hope that the best practices of responsible contemporary farming make their way into the developing world, but more importantly I hope that people get fed. I cannot rationalize letting one single person die in the developing world because of our desire to implement more genteel methods of agriculture.
Food used to take up somewhere around 40% of the typical American family's budget. These days it is more like 10%. That is both good and bad. Small farmers are grossly undercompensated and junk food based upon cheap processed sugars, fats and cereal grains make up too much of our collective diet. Chemicals and farm waste cause countless environmental issues which probably lead to latent disease in humans.
But, because of modern agriculture and the social safety net (food stamps), the idea of famine in the developed world is a distant memory. And that fact alone might be one of the greatest American achievements of the 20th century.
Can we do better with safer and more conscientious food production? Certainly.
But are we going to break out the torches and pitchforks because of a failed tomato crop? Not in 2009, and thank goodness for that because it was not always the case.