Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekly Food Roundup - Tom's of Maine and the Gospel of Slow Food

*Weekly Food Roundup is a weekly recap of local, national and global food issues as they play out online, in print and in our everyday lives. Check back every Friday for new installments.*

On Wednesday of this week we learned that we were selected as finalists for a Tom's of Maine grant for $20,000, which would almost completely fund our projects for the next year. In our research for the grant application we noted that not once in the past 20 years had Tom's selected a local food initiative, in any capacity, for the grant. So we were confident in our application and optimistic that now was the right time to highlight a project like ours.

Well, any question of whether food issues were still on the collective conscious of the country was answered Wednesday when the list of finalists was announced, and on it were 10 projects, including us, dealing with community gardening or growing food for food pantries. We're still confident and excited, obviously, but we're not sure whether to celebrate the large number of gardening projects, or bemoan them, because they're competition.

What that really translates into, though, is the importance of our local network and those people who are already familiar with our cause. We can't rely on the random e-passerby reading our project title on the Tom's website and voting for us, because we don't stand out as much in that crowd. It's nothing a little elbow grease and some old-fashioned campaigning can't achieve though. And we have you to help us along. Please vote, and often!

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Journalist and food writer Michael Pollan has been the topic of some controversy lately, mostly from Agribusiness interests who don't jive with Pollan's viewpoints on local food, sustainable agriculture and eating in general. Best known for his most recent book "In Defense of Food", which tackles the question of what the healthiest eating habits should look like and sums it up in seven words ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."), Pollan is responsible for a recent groundswell in the public voice on food issues. Not since Eric Schlosser's 2002 "Fast Food Nation" has our commodity-crop addicted food system been called out, but the debate continues on now stronger than it ever has.

Op-eds from industrial farmers have criticized the mounting number of "agri-intellectuals" preaching a gospel of slow food, and Pollan is always the fall-guy for that movement. But the critiques leveled at Pollan, that he isn't a farmer, doesn't understand farm life and its trials, aren't fair. He doesn't claim any of those things. What he does know is how far our national eating habits have shifted over the past 40 years, from agrarian and local to industrial and global. What he advocates isn't radical: know your farmer, read the indecipherable ingredient list and avoid anything Grandma wouldn't recognize.

Pollan will be speaking this Sunday at Xavier University in Cincinnati, as part of their Ethics, Religion and Society lecture series. The event is free and runs from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., and I definitely recommend attending. More than 7,000 people attended his speech last night in Madison, WI. I hope half that many people turn out in Cincinnati on Sunday!

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