Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Anti-Gay Chick-Fil-A: Another Reason to Eat Local

When it comes to parting with my hard-earned cash in exchange for food, I’m all for knowing as much as possible about where my money is going to end up. Now people who buy a meal at Chick-Fil-A know that their money is going toward the obstruction of gay rights.
Photo: blogs.phillymag.com

There have been reports of the company’s donations to anti-gay organizations for years, but now president and COO Dan Cathy is officially out of the proverbial closet. In a July 16th interview with the Baptist Press (a Christian news organization that must be given credit for its delightfully punny catchphrase: “We have GOOD NEWS!”), Cathy discussed details of the company’s WinShape Foundation.

First of all: WinShape? Oh, you’re shaping people to become winners, are you? Well, my unshapely windows want their portmanteau back.

According to Cathy, WinShape began as a college scholarship and has somehow “morphed into a marriage program in conjunction with national marriage ministries.” He continues, “We are very much supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit.”

Oh, goodie! Finally, a place to buy chicken that supports my father’s right to trade me for the severed foreskins of two hundred dead Philistines:
Therefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full measure to the king, that he might be the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter for a wife. 1 Samuel 18:27
Well, two hundred foreskins might be pushing it, in my case. My dad would probably just get a few scraggly-looking chickens in exchange for me. At least then he wouldn’t have to eat at Chick-Fil-A.

After coming out (!) as an anti-gay rights organization, Chick-Fil-A lost the support of the Muppets (because… duh) and Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino, among others. Soon after the fallout, Cathy released a statement that “going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

That’s fine. But now we all know that when we give Chick-Fil-A our money, we’re financially supporting anti-gay marriage groups like the Family Research Council and the Marriage & Family Foundation.

Of course, local farms can use their profits to support whatever they want, too. So do the research. Where can you buy free-range chicken from a farm in your area? What will your money ultimately go toward? Check out Eat Wild, a resource with maps and information about pasture-raised meat and poultry near you.

It’s not like I ate at Chick-Fil-A in the first place, to be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a Chick-Fil-A in real life, though I have certainly chuckled to myself over that ad campaign in which a cow standing on its hind legs encourages us to “Eat Mor Chikin.”

Because everyone knows that while cows apparently have the language economy of Hemingway and the dexterity to wield Sharpie markers, they can’t spell for sh*t.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Highway to Health

Are you going on a road trip? Prepare to lie to your Weight Watchers journal. Because I can't think of many places with fewer healthful food options than highway rest stops. Maybe the circus, or a county fair in middle America.

Last week, I was driving my sister back to her hippie-dippie 'hood on the western edge if Massachusetts - it wasn't quite a road trip, but we had to stop for a bathroom break.

We were on the Mass Pike - Route 90 - which, for the uninitiated, is a toll road that runs east to west across the state of Massachusetts (and, eventually, across the border into the randomness of upstate New York). You can take "the Pike" to get to Worcester, Leicester, and other towns whose names you can't pronounce.

Well, we pulled into the rest stop in Charlton, expecting to use the restroom (as the name "rest stop" implies one ought to do) and maybe grab some almonds from a vending machine.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear... but a miniature farmers market! And eight tiny reindeer. (Just kidding about the reindeer.)

There on the side of the highway stood a small collection of farm stands, looking as out of place as a scone on the middle tier of a curate stand at afternoon tea. I mean, really.

As it turns out, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has reserved space for local farmers to sell their goods at rest stops since 2000. Not many vendors have taken advantage of this opportunity, but those who have are glad: Darlene at the Gilmore farm stand (the farm is in the same city as the rest stop, Charlton) said she gets so much business at the rest stop, she doesn't need to sell at any other markets.

My sister eats fruit like most people breathe air: she inhales it, and she doesn't think much about doing it. So she bought a crate of blueberries from Gilmore Farm and ate pretty much the entire thing before we reached our destination.

I was looking for a more substantial snack, so I went over to chat with Kevin at the Berkshire Grain stand. All his granolas are kosher, made with unrefined sugar, and have fun names. For instance, the Tangleberry mix (named for the Tanglewood summer music festival in Lenox, where Berkshire Grain is based) is "child-friendly," meaning it does not contain nuts.

(Side note: why are so many kids allergic to nuts these days? Remind me to ask a stand-up comic; I'm sure they'll have an answer.)

Kevin gave me a sample bag of the cranberry pecan granola, and it really hit the spot. I felt it was an appropriately earthy crunchy item to snack on as I continued on the drive to Northampton, Massachusetts, conservative Republican population: negative a billion.

Monday, July 2, 2012

In Defense of Locavorism: Let's Cultivate Our Garden

In The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, a controversial response to Michael Pollan’s 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroku Shimizu take a stance against the locavore movement. Yesterday, The Daily Beast promoted The Locavore’s Dilemma in a post entitled, “Why Locavorism Doesn’t Make Us Happier, Healthier, or Safer.”

Desrochers’ and Shimizu’s main argument is against the idea of “food miles,” or the distance between the farm and the consumer’s plate, as a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions. Citing many Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies, they point out that:
As American researchers have documented, in their country the “food miles” segment (from producer to retailer) contributes only about 4 percent of total emissions related to what Americans take home in their grocery bags, while 83 percent of households’ carbon dioxide footprint for food consumption can be traced back to the production stages.
Since “food miles” aren’t traversed in a vacuum, other environmental factors have to be taken into consideration when making dietary decisions. Unsurprisingly, certain climates are more suitable for the production of certain foods (fruits, for example). So building a greenhouse where you can grow peaches during winter in New England is less environmentally sound than just transporting those peaches from across the country. I think that would make sense to most locavores.

The Locavore’s Dilemma is well-researched and well-written, and I’m glad it exists. Locavorism is one of those ideas that seem to make sense on a gut level, and ideas like that always deserve to be challenged.

But I take issue with the book on many fronts, including its understanding of most locavores’ motivation. Desrochers and Shimizu assume people who value eating locally produced food over food that has traveled long distances want to impose their dietary habits on everyone on the planet, at the expense of social and economic logic.

Do I think a financially struggling person living in Santa Barbara should attempt to maintain a vegetable garden rather than buy cheap meals at a fast food chain? Yes. Do I think starving families in Haiti should refuse food drops from the U.S. because of the carbon emissions of the planes that delivered them? No. Is it time to stop employing the overused rhetorical device of asking myself questions with obvious answers? Probably.

But the most problematic implication of The Locavore’s Dilemma is evident in The Daily Beast’s defense of it. That is the argument that the food production/consumption situation that exists today is better than any imagined alternative simply because it is what exists today. Huge factory farms have beat out small, family-run farms largely due to government subsidies; presumably, by virtue of that economic victory, they are better for the world we live in today.

That Panglossian mindset strikes me as a grand excuse to be lazy. For all his faults, Voltaire seems to have had at least one thing right: we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. So let’s cultivate our garden.