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May 23, 2007

Quality of Life Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Sales of organic foods rose 22% from 2005 to 2006. Hmmm: That would seem to indicate that there's a lot of underserved demand for organic food. Remind anyone else of the New Urbanism? And wouldn't it be lovely if our housing market were as responsive to customer preferences as our food market is?

* Firebrand James Kunstler spends a weekend in Philly with the New Urbanism crowd. Here's the gathering's official website.

* Is the Slow Food phenomenon nothing but elitist silliness? (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) I blogged about the Slow movement here and here.

* Here's a gasp-inducing collection of images from a 1971 Sears catalogue. Lordy, but that's a lot of ugly. (Link thanks to Plep.)

* With camera in hand, Steve Patterson has been checking out midwestern cities. He casts a perceptive and knowledgeable eye over St. Joseph, Missouri; Shenandoah, Iowa; Salina, Kansas, and others.

* Cartoonist Tom Hart returns from France with some apt observations on French life. Example: "The middle class life there is unbelievably gracious ... They have a solid, direct and painless relationship with food and time, something that stresses out most Americans." Mock 'em as we may, the French do "quality of life" awfully well.

* Why aren't American cities as bicycle-friendly as Copenhagen is? (Link thanks to Richard Layman.)



UPDATE: Thanks to Chris White for pointing out a well-done and informative Christopher Shea article. In setting the context for the new-style (ie., Michael Pollan-esque) food writing that we're seeing so much of these days, Shea does a good job of explaining how we arrived at this point. Key historical passage, as far as I'm concerned:

The roots of the organic and local-foods movements are more intertwined with the spread of good cooking than we usually think. As American food industrialized over the course of the twentieth century (bringing such taste sensations as Miracle Whip and Crisco), immigrant chefs with impeccable culinary taste maintained oases of fresh ingredients, carefully prepared, in bistros and restaurants. Some Americans, like a young James Beard in the 1930s, drew connections between those chefs' close attention to their ingredients and their relationships with farmers, and the kind of home cooking their own mothers had done.

During the heyday of the counterculture, a second generation of foodies pushed American food in an even more local direction. Alice Waters, who recruited her neighbors in Berkeley to grow greens for her restaurant, Chez Panisse (founded in 1971), is the best-known example. Other countercultural Californians headed north from San Francisco into towns like Bolinas to start organic farms, while restaurants like San Francisco's Greens and Ithaca's Moosewood imported a slice of that off-the-grid sensibility to city dwellers. Still, the organic movement remained fringe, and people who cooked with local ingredients were praised largely for their food, not their politics.

posted by Michael at May 23, 2007


I don't give two hoots for the organic-ness of 'organic' foods vs. the evil korporate man-made ones, but recently I've found myself purchasing 'organic' prepared foods (e.g., relish and pickles) simply because there's less added crap in them – no added colors, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.

Posted by: David Fleck on May 23, 2007 8:32 AM

David, I'm not sure I understand your comment. You say you don't care about the "organic-ness" of organic foods, but then say you've begun purchasing such foods because they have less additives in them. Well, that there is the very definition of "organic foods."

Actually, I do understand your comment. You don't like the lefty bent of the organic movement, but can't deny the benefits of that movement. Same ol' shit. Laugh at the flaky hippies, then eventually adopt their ways, albeit with words like "hoot" thrown in to reassure us all of your no nonsense, folksy ways.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 23, 2007 10:15 AM

I love the "total sweater look, complete with belt"...for MEN in the Sears catalog!! And you thought "gayness" only recently took over American fashion! Actually, there's a few coats in there with fur collars which aren't bad. I'm amazed at how little the actual appearance of female catalog models (not the fashions, but them) has changed in 35 years! Americans still like their fashion models the exact same height and weight and face shape as they always have! And you keep talking about how much it has all "evolved."

Posted by: annette on May 23, 2007 10:56 AM

France is run for the Parisian bourgeoisie, so if you share their tastes it's wonderful. France is also, and perhaps this is just a little contentious, one huge book-keeping fraud.

Posted by: dearieme on May 23, 2007 12:43 PM

"The middle class life there is unbelievably gracious"

Michael, I was under the impression that the French Middle Class had been shrinking at a great rate for decades. Granted, it has here to a lesser degree as well.

That does not diminish the quality of the current French Middle Class, but, as nice as they may be, they are probably becoming less relevant.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 23, 2007 12:50 PM

Re: Sears

Now I know where my mother got that damned furniture that's scattered around her house.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on May 23, 2007 1:02 PM

what do you think the world was eating before the hippies came along? What you (and presumably they...I have no patience for infantile blabbering, so never paid much attention to hippie ideology) call "organic" food has been simply "food" for thousands of years - and hell yes, the folksy, dawn-to earth people can exercise their preference in food w/o politicizing it, thank you very much.

Common sense approach: food with less/0 conservatives tastes better; unpreserved food is short-lived =>buy raw food in season and from your local supplier (but be prepared to pay more, since growing chemical-free produce is labor-intensive). If you want something NOT in season, pay more for delivery from far-away places or pay less for food with preservatives that doesn't taste as good.

Does this really need to be an issue of political allegiances? Geez.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 23, 2007 4:55 PM

the patriarch: You say you don't care about the "organic-ness" of organic foods, but then say you've begun purchasing such foods because they have less additives in them. Well, that there is the very definition of "organic foods."

Actually, I do understand your comment. You don't like the lefty bent of the organic movement, but can't deny the benefits of that movement. Same ol' shit. Laugh at the flaky hippies, then eventually adopt their ways, albeit with words like "hoot" thrown in to reassure us all of your no nonsense, folksy ways.

Doesn't really follow. I might buy the "organic" peanut butter because I don't like the taste of sugar in my peanut butter and it's the only brand on the shelf without added sugars. Not arsed about whether the peanuts were organically grown, though. In the fresh produce section I don't select stuff based on its organic-ness. And I still laugh at flaky hippies.

(And I see no evidence that Fleck has been adopting hippie ways, though I'll keep my eye out.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on May 23, 2007 6:04 PM

The French have no problem with time? Like they don't get up as hurried and harried in Paris (or Lyon) as we do in New York (or Chicago). Of course they do. Will the romanticization of the Frogs never end?!

Posted by: ricpic on May 23, 2007 6:17 PM

Whatever. This whole American obsession with 'wealth creation' seems totally idiotic. Status is a zero-sum game. Much better to drive everyone's work hours down.

Posted by: SFG on May 23, 2007 7:17 PM

"David, I'm not sure I understand your comment."

There seems to be much you don't understand.

Posted by: David Fleck on May 23, 2007 8:03 PM

Oops, messed up the italics in my post above. "Actually, I do understand your comment. You don't like the lefty bent of the organic movement, but can't deny the benefits of that movement. Same ol' shit. Laugh at the flaky hippies, then eventually adopt their ways, albeit with words like 'hoot' thrown in to reassure us all of your no nonsense, folksy ways" are the words of the patriarch. Sorry.

Posted by: Moira Breen on May 23, 2007 8:13 PM

A newly added Arts & Letters Daily link to the essay New Grub Street by Christopher Shea offers some interesting thoughts on the organics vs. conventional debate.

The other times this topic has come up on 2 blowhards have proven kind of intriguing. As is already happening in this one, there seems to be some kind notion that organic foods/slow foods/bicycles are "leftist" and so, whatever their benefits or pitfalls, those who think of themselves as "conservatives" generally reject them as the choices of flaky hippie mushy headed elitists. (at least here Tatyana seems to be separating food from politics)

I'm admittedly of the "prgressive" persuasion and my food choices are made with a hierarchy that begins with local organic then local conventional and on to corporate organic with conventional last. I rarely have the time for "slow food" but like the idea.

Posted by: Chris White on May 24, 2007 8:11 AM

Tat, the organic food movement came about because of how far we had gotten away from the food that our ancestors have been eating for thousands of years. I'm not say "hippies" invented it, but they sure did a lot to illuminate some of the ills of modern food and championed a return to the food of our grandparents.

David, read your first comment again. You start off saying you don't care much about the "organic-ness" of food, then in the next sentence explain that you have started buying some organic food because you like that it has less additives, which, as I pointed out, is the very definition of "organic food." So if you appreciate the physical qualities of organic food, which part of the "organic-ness" of the food do you not "give two hoots" about?

Posted by: the patriarch on May 24, 2007 10:42 AM

A propos of nothing, did you know that the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackay, is a Randroid? Here's a whopping-long speech about his conversion from the left to the libertarian right, and here's a whopping-long interview. (He sure does go on, doesn't he?)

With amusing predictability, some lefties have begun compiling a dossier on the man!

Posted by: Brian on May 24, 2007 11:18 AM

*patriarch, having been raised outside of US with total presence of hippies in population of about .001%, let me assure you, the ills of modern food production were widely known without their input whatsoever.
The way I see it, you can't seat with one ass on 2 chairs (well...increasing number of people do just that, but as far as folk idiom go, that's the truth). Either you increase amount of food, eliminating hunger, making it very cheap for millions by introducing industrialization into production, BUT add chemicals and treating protein-supplying animals inhumanely. Or you grow every apple and wipe your chicken's beaks by hand - BUT be prepared to pay higher prices for your organic food, prohibitively high to majority of population.

Economics, not politics.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 24, 2007 1:11 PM

In what universe is "no additives" the "very definition of 'organic food'"? Because it sure isn't the definition around here.

Posted by: David Fleck on May 24, 2007 1:21 PM

Here is how I'm rephrase David's comment, based on my reading of it: Whether or not something's strictly organic doesn't matter so much. A tomato or peanut could, say, get a small dose of fertilizer and still be a heck of a lot more natural and tasty than most of the stuff out there. Think of "organic" as a subset of "minimally processed". If I'm after something that's minimally processed, organic is sufficient but not necessary. And don't forget all of the "organic" junk food over in the sweets and bread aisles. I don't care if my peanut butter is organic. But I do care if it has added hydrogenated oils or sugar.

I must admit, though, that I laugh when I see the bread slicer at the Whole Foods that warns customers that it's not a 100% organic slicer. That's when I know it's turned into a religion--when people treat organic food with the same rules as if it were kosher, without regard to what the food actually is. (e.g. Organic candy bar = good; conventional banana = bad.)

And what about those people who live in the 60% of the country where _nothing_ is fresh and local in February? That's how pickles and sauerkraut and canned veggies got invented in the first place. I like sauerkraut, but it's pretty easy to get sick of it.

Posted by: Chris on May 24, 2007 2:04 PM

"France is also, and perhaps this is just a little contentious, one huge book-keeping fraud."

While our finances are air-tight right? How many $100 billion have we borrowed from the chinese this year?

Posted by: B on May 27, 2007 11:04 PM

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