Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fossil-Fuel Food & Solar Food

On Saturday we visited LifeSource's annual customer appreciation day. The Severin Sisters played poppy bluegrass and there were lots of samples and happy people. It was great to see.

The highlight was seeing Victory Estates, a producer of olive oil in Keizer (no website, alas), and tasting their oil. It wasn't peppery like Tuscan oil, but was more buttery & fruity, and tasted to me like a Spanish oil. It turns out it's made from arbequina olives, a Spanish variety. We were so happy to see this local producer of oil at LifeSource!

One thing was really vexing, though. The parking lot was full; the bike rack was not. Virtually everyone drove cars. LifeSource makes it so easy to bike, and yet on one of their biggest days, only half the rack was full.

The connection between food & fuel, between what we eat and how it gets there, remains really problematic, made almost invisible by modern production & logistics. Even at LifeSource, people are addicted to oil. Some of the samples with the largest crowds, in fact, came from highly packaged, manufactured foods rather than farm-fresh produce.

On Sunday, the New York Times had another great piece by Michael Pollan. If you don't know Pollan, he's the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. In the Times piece, written as an open letter to the next President, he argues for a new food policy and the shift from what he calls fossil-fuel food, with intensive petrol inputs from fertilizer to shipping, to solar food, whose inputs more clearly & directly derive from the sun. Pollan is always good reading.

Earlier in the day we'd been to the Salem Public Market. It's indoors, runs year-round, and may not be as well known as the Salem Saturday Market. We were the only bicyclists. Cascade Baking Company was there and we had a nice chat with Debra. We talked some about spelt breads. Look out for some holiday baking with spelt!

Interestingly, several of the cars had McCain/Palin stickers on them. At the market we expect to see signs of the lefty/hippie/commie axis, but not necessarily signs of more conservative inclinations. Food security and food authenticity, however, are issues that increasingly unite folks on the right and left. Pollan says, "Reforming the food system is not inherently a right-or-left issue."

Indeed, political commentator Rod Dreher calls himself a "crunchy con," and says, "I read Edmund Burke and wear Birkenstock sandals. Go Figure." He writes about local food from a conservative angle.

Food and transportation is something Salem ought to be able to unite on. As the Capital City for one of the world's great agricultural regions, Salem is positioned to lead on what could be a keystone for bridging the rural-urban and right-left divides. Climate change and a sputtering economy, not to mention the prospects of a more serious depression, will make food and transportation even more critical. Bicycling, the 21st century victory garden, and local farmers will all be key pieces. Whether the legislature does anything on this front is 2009 is uncertain, but we can all do our part to drive less and eat more local food.

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