Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Food for people

The label on the plastic container holding the two kilograms of peaches I bought at the Farmer's Market reads, "Tree ripened yellow peach. Food for people."

I wondered about the 'Food for people' tag line. Who else would it be for? We normally give domestic animals 'feed'. Unless they are our pets, where, as our anthropocentric perception of companion animals insists, we feed our pets food.

Who else would food be for? The implicit message in such a banal statement is that food could be for some other purpose – or rather grown, processed, packaged and sold for someone else's purposes. Not non-humans (such as aliens and what not). Corporations. Which may as well be aliens, in the Matrix 'feeding on humans in a feeding factory' scenario.

eggplant & tomatoes
The preference for 'food for people' is based on the conviction that so much of our food is grown by industrial agriculture in means that value higher crop yields over the impact farming practices have on our communities and environment. It is concerned with how fruit and vegetables are grown to suit the commercial interests of retailers that the 'produce' should survive long journeys to the supermarkets without bruising, last longer on the supermarket shelves without going brown, spotty or squelchy, and thus reduce commercial losses that are attributed to their customers' aversion for food that doesn't look perfect. These practices are less concerned with how that fruit or vegetable may taste, feel in the mouth, or be used in our cooking and meals.

The supermarket chains insist that they are only providing what their customers – us – want. Admittedly, it is odd that we are obsessed with fresh food that 'looks (and feels) perfect', rather than tastes great. Or so the supermarkets' picture of us, their customers, paints us to be. Are we really like this?

Yes, we all want to buy fruit and vegetables that are not bruised, not mouldy, not wilted or browning, maybe only just a bit spotty – our food will last longer when we get it home. We certainly don't want it rotten. Yes, we should all have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.

Does that mean that we shouldn't care that the tomatoes taste bland, or worse, and feel wooly in the mouth? Should we ignore the fact that the taste-poor apples are oversized and glossy with wax?

It's just not good enough. I think that is why more and more people are going to be concerned about 'Food for People'. And rightly so.

[The image is one of mine (cc) from a family trip to the Farmers' Market at Collingwood Children's Farm, on which I've posted before.]

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At April 26, 2007 12:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a really interesting point. I like the "food for people" idea, but then again, the supermarkets would claim that shiny, even, indestructible and incorruptible is what the customer wants.

I remember reading an article in about 1969 from a Polish agronomist saying that they had a crisis in flavour in tomatoes, apples and pears. (I found it lying open in a library).

The problem has been with us for a long time.

- barista


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