Veggie Love. Real true veggie love. That’s what the future holds. It has to if we plan to feed the planet and free ourselves of the food idiosyncrasies that plague our generation. Idiosyncrasies that probably developed because the food supply we depend on has become all messed up.
When I say veggie love I don’t mean that we should all become vegetarians. Vegetarianism, one could argue, is one of the idiosyncratic reactions to the food that passes for mainstream fare in the modern world. Meaning vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice. A very good choice for a lot of people. A lot of rich people. Developing countries don’t have the option of choosing a culinary lifestyle. There has to be a broader answer to the problem.
So how did we get here? I’d argue, economics. The cost of producing and procuring food is rising at an alarming rate. Even (and especially) in North America. The soaring prices are not a temporary spike caused by a run on rice in India or the massive overplanting of corn in America. These are real-world prices correcting themselves after generations of cheap food, the result of the American agriculture industry run amok. Especially the meat industry.
For almost a century America was the envy of the world. New immigrants arrived to a country where it seemed that meat grew on trees. The culture reacted. Pretty soon Americans were having meat at every meal, which created demand. The natural reaction to greater demand in market economics is higher prices. But somehow that’s not what happened. Instead of raising prices (and losing customers), the American agriculture industry increased supply. In the short run, this seemed like the win/win solution. The American government even enabled this false economy through subsidies and regulations designed to keep the machine churning out product. Well, common sense tells you that the only way a cycle like that can continue is to keep lowering the quality of the product. So now we’re at a really ugly place. An artificially induced place that is unsustainable.
It’s all very depressing. We could wallow in the hopelessness of it, or we could support veggie love over vegetarianism. Which is my way of summing up the philosophy of Alice Waters. Food is not to be taken for granted. Even food that really does grow on trees comes at a cost. Veggie love means knowing where your food comes from. It means buying food from farmers who are doing things the right way. It’s far more complicated than merely buying local and organic, eschewing GMOs, or going vegan. These philosophies can be part of the solution for individuals, but we need commerce, scale, and sensible production to feed the world. To me, the broader solution means developing attitudes about food that are more nineteenth-century than modern age fad. This is true for greens and for grains– for melons and for meat.
I believe that the proliferation of people adopting outlandish diets with marketable names is the result of a population that realizes something is wrong– but is paralyzed by the commerce machine when it comes to fixing what’s broken. So rather than looking at the source, they look at the self. “If I just don’t eat those things, or if I only eat these things– not only will I be healthy but I’ll be happy. Because I will be in control”. It’s a natural reaction to something so much larger than the individual, but it won’t feed the planet and it won’t change anything. Veggie Love is the first step towards progress.
Instead of twisting ourselves into gluten-free knots, we should look at the way people ate before so many of us became intolerant of the food we need to survive. There was a time when hunting wasn’t about trophies, it was about meat. Nose to tail weren’t buzzwords– they were sensible reactions to scarcity. Kitchen gardens weren’t chicly designed into multi-million dollar homes– they popped up wherever a small patch of ground allowed.
In order to change the quality of the worldwide supply of food, our first world plates need to look drastically different. We need to develop veggie love. Our plates need to be heavier on grains and greens. Meats shouldn’t sit at the center of every plate at every meal. Meat has a place in our food supply, a much smaller much more sustainable place. I know these changes are hard, especially on the scale we need to move forward. I look at my own choices and see how difficult the changes are. I’m often swayed by impossibly cheap prices. But once enough people change the way their plates look, large-scale demand will change. Once demand changes the supply will follow suit. Economics will prevail and the quality of our food will get better. I know it will. GREG