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Archive for January, 2011

I was asked to clarify my position about western food.  Accused of being overly pessimistic about Canadian attitudes toward food and amidst claims of my being ‘ignorant’ of the slow food movement or the within 100 miles movement, I feel the need to explain myself better.

The slow food movement is a political response to the culture of consumption in the west.  The argument is that food production and consumption should be re-directed to a localized position.  Using a FABIS approach (Fresh and Best In Season) consumption should be limited to whatever is locally produced and using as much organic / free range produce as possible.  And while I applaud such ‘G-Local’ approaches, this is a movement that is perpetuated by a particular well educated middle class segment of the population.  My point is that this is a movement in opposition to the mainstream, which is to consume factory/mass produced product.

There is no slow food movement in Taiwan.  In Taiwan, food production and consumption is almost entirely a local thing.  This is not to say there aren’t supermarkets in Taiwan – of course there are, and most long term / non perishable items are purchased from supermarkets.  However, the vast majority of people in Taiwan buy their food for daily consumption exclusively from local markets.  The difference is, that there is no need for a localization movement, because food production and consumption has never been anything but local.  Meat is puchased from butchers who are supplied by local producers, vegetables is purchased from market stalls that have production supplied directly from growers and virtually all consumption is from locally sourced produce.

 

But here in the west, we have become so completely dependent on mass production and consumption on such a mass scale, that finding locally sourced food has become a challenge, even when we live within 30 miles from farming communitites.  That we even need a slow food movement is a distressing sign that consumption has gone too far on a mass scale.  We need more than a slow food movement, we need to completely rethink how our food is channeled to us through several large corporations (corporate farms, corporate distribution channels, corporate trading and then corporate supermarkets) before landing on our plates, and also re-think our natural inclination to assume that the massification of food production is cheaper than the alternative (sold directly from farmer to consumer).  We’re being sold a lie that massification and corporatization is fundamental to our economy and that this is a somehow more ‘natural’ order of things than when a farmer sells directly to a local distributor.  We don’t need a slow food movement, we need a complete re-evaluation of how we consume.

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Well, this last year has been a mighty strange one, but never did I imagine such culture shock at returning to Canada.

The most shocking thing to me about contemporary North American society is its peculiar attitude to food.  I’ve been out of Canada for the last 8 years, living four and a half years in England, and then three in South East Asia.  My first port of call back in Canada was a large supermarket chain.  At some point in the last few years, small supermarkets have become a thing of the past, and now all grocery shopping is done is buildings about the size of a football arena.   But the most appalling thing about this attitude toward food, is the packaging of it all.  Food in the West seems to me to be something so heavily processed that it no longer actually resembles food.

Having spent the last eight years buying my meat exclusively from butchers, and fruit andveg from farmers markets and green grocers where things do not come pre-washed, pre-picked, trimmed and packaged, I find the amount of food waste in the west grossly offensive.  When we have gotten to a point where only boneless-skinless chicken breasts are available, and kidneys, liver, tripe and heart cannot be purchased, I’m left wondering why and how North Americans have become so terrified of food in its raw state, and yet ironically at the same time so much of this commercially processed product is being marketed as ‘natural.’  ‘Natural’ but completely divorced from its natural state.

So, here is my first film in a series of video blogs about ideology in contemporary life.

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