Last night I stumbled into the food salon at the TED talks online. If you don’t know www.ted.com I recommend it highly – rich brain candy (which is not fattening).

Mark Bittman, the cookbook author and on-air chef (how many are there now?) told us that Americans eat 8 ounces of meat a day and should be eating that amount a week.

I listened as I ate 4 ounces of some bovine neighbor’s liver, and wanted to hide my plate from the computer screen so Mark wouldn’t see.

Louise Fresco, a sustainability activist from the Netherlands, encouraged us to get off our high locavore horse and recognize that the global food system – with all its transport and specialization – is necessary to feed the world. To advocate for local uber alles is to consign many millions to starvation. Our numbers are a result of agricultural choices and we can’t advocate for local-ism without recognizing the many beings who depend on a – hopefully well run and healthy – large scale agriculture system.

I was wrong again as I ate a salad of Tricia’s lettuce, tomatos, basil and cucumbers. I determined to shade 10-mile eating a bit towards Hobbes who said the life of the peasant: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Whatever you advocate there is always the question of: What if everyone did it?

I’m clear that my experiment is revealing how hard it is to feed ourselves and maintain our current way of life. If everyone shifted to 10 Mile Diets where I live there would not be enough cows, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, hogs, not to speak of vegetables to feed us for a month. At most. Without grain it would be even more of a shock. When you get this, the whole ethos unto religion of localism does become more brutish. If we changed what we eat, we would have to change how we live. Drastically.

So I started this experiment to “eat my words” – live my espoused values. And now, 2 1/2 weeks in, I’m in hot water. My goose is getting cooked. I’ve arrived at dueling opinions and certainties.

One reason for this is that we have taken eating off automatic. And we did it a long long time ago. The flourishing of the human animal on this planet is a story of food – and I’m sure there’s a TED talk where someone with a PhD who can lay that out for me. We are what – and how – we eat. Hunters and gatherers gave way to Farmers – which then gave way to the Mechanized Food System.

There were probably some clever ad men back then whose job it was to convince that rowdy free crowd of nomads to stay put and garden. Can’t you hear them around the fire?

“Har har har, Stanley over there wants us to tie ourselves to a water buffalo and run around behind him. So we can eat grass. Har har har.”

Seriously, though, the technologies that have enabled us as a species have also disabled us. We do not actually know what and how to eat through natural intelligence. Our choices are run externally by the system and internally by our disconnection from our guts. We have ceded our lives to experts. We are hooked up on a vast machine of research and culture and old wives tales wearing lab coats. The Matrix. The eating matrix.

As with slavery, our good fortune here in the US rides on the back of people whose lives have been reshaped to feed us – people around the world, growing our vegetables and flowers and meat and grain.

What does it mean to eat ethically – without sacrificing eating deliciously and joyfully and healthily? I don’t know. Yet. (Though I’m sure some of you do – and will tell me.) In this experiment I’ve never posed as being right or righteous. At best I am a physical as well as moral guinea pig.

Second only to food I am most voracious for learning. I love learning, raw, cooked, salty, sour, sweet. It is all soul food for me. So this month is feeding that very deep hunger I have to really understand this life in all its facets before I leave my carcass to a few more hungry animals.

2 Comments

  • Michelle Bastian Posted September 19, 2010 2:56 pm

    In relation to Louise Fresco’s point. I’m sure I’ve heard Vandana Shiva argue exactly the opposite. See this for example:
    http://www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?file=31052002130237.htm

  • Aloria Lanshaw Posted September 22, 2010 3:36 pm

    I’d like to counter Mark Bittman’s comment regarding only eating 8 ounces of meat per week with something I read in the July 2010 issue of Stockman Grass Farmer. In his discussion of the book “Steak”, by Mark Schatzker, Allan Nation brings up the point that “paleolithic humans ate up to 3 1/2 pounds of meat daily and in the mid 19th century, the heavy meat eating Plains Indians were the tallest people on earth.” While most of us should not require over 3 pounds per day, I question Bittman’s assertion of 1 ounce per day of meat.

    While Louise Fresco may have a point about a global agriculture being necessary to support our current population, I wonder if she addresses the health and longevity of the Earth, animals and humans subject to the products and by-products of that system.

    Just like any other choice in the plethora of environmental, ethical and economic issues at hand, we simply must make the best choices we can in our individual situations. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed with the ability to eat local year-round (mostly). If we all do the best we can do, it frees up finite resources for those cannot make the same choice of local eating.

    Furthermore, that “locavore high horse” is shaping up to give Big Ag a run for its money. Hitting Big Ag where it hurts (the pocketbook)is the only thing that will ever result in meaningful change and healthy food for those who are forced to rely on global food production. With every free-range chicken, every pastured pork, each multi-hued and varying-sized egg we produce and sell in our local radius, we are taking a bite out of Tyson, Cargill, Wright County Egg and the numerous other corporations which monopolize our food supply. That is why we make the choices we can.

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