From: Food News [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: August 9, 2022 11:44 AM
To: Food News
Subject: Think Global, Eat Local
Editor's Note: This article from the LA Times highlights the growth
of sustainable agriculture. This approach contrasts with industrial
approaches to farming, emphasizing knowledge of where food comes from
and how it has been produced, as compared to industrial food production
where questionable practices are often employed to bring cheap food
to consumers at great cost to human, animal and environmental health.
Local sustainable agriculture initiatives offer advantages from three
perspectives: human health and food safety; the strengthening of local
economies; land, environmental and animal quality.
Think Global, Eat Local
The sustainable food movement that began with Berkeley chef Alice Waters
has blossomed in Portland, Ore. Are its proponents just dreaming?
Or is a real revolution underway?
Los Angeles Times Magazine - July 31, 2022
By Jim Robbins
Greg Higgins, chef and owner of the tony downtown Portland restaurant
Higgins, walks to the back of his bustling kitchen and opens a door
into the heart of the latest environmental movement. The walk-in refrigerator
is crammed with sides of beef covered with blankets of fat, glassy-eyed
fish, rows of restaurant-made sausage and ham, trays of fresh vegetables
in plastic tubs and assorted comestibles, nearly all of it originating
within 100 miles of here, in what Higgins calls the Portland "foodshed." Virtually
every item is brought in and dropped off by the farmer who raised it. "There's
nothing more threatened than the American farmer," says the tall,
burly Higgins a little later, as he swirls and sips a glass of Oregon
white wine. "The goal is to keep them in business."
A personal connection between a restaurant chef and the people who
grow his beef or broccoli rabe might not sound radical, but it's a
major element of a burgeoning movement. It's called "sustainable
food"—a chain of supply and demand that theoretically could
continue in perpetuity. A shorter food chain cuts down on oil consumption,
puts money in the pockets of disappearing farmers, is more humane,
helps protect soil and water and, best of all, usually delivers food
that tastes better. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley is credited
with starting the movement in the U.S. Now, from the ivy-covered dorms
at Yale to the public schools at Berkeley to the grocery stores, white-tablecloth
restaurants and fast-food joints of Portland, a grass-roots movement
is sprouting that emphasizes food with a local pedigree.
That this kind of relationship is even news is an indication of how
crazy the food production and distribution system has become. Brian
Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization,
estimates that just 1% or 2% of America's food is locally grown. He
thinks the locally grown share could easily reach 40% or 50%, "and
there's no reason why we couldn't grow all of our food."
The produce in the average American dinner is trucked about 1,500
miles to get to the plate, according to a 2001 study by the Leopold
Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, up an
estimated 22% during the past two decades. And growing food is no longer
an artisanal process, but a commodity. Large food producers focus on
supplying products as cheaply as possible, and consumers are waking
up to the fact that something's wrong. Things are getting weird out
there in Hooterville: cloned cattle and sheep, genetically modified "Frankenfoods," schools
of pen-raised and chemically dyed salmon, E. coli in beef, mercury
and PCBs in fish, chickens crammed into cages the size of a sheet of
paper, and giant hog farms that pollute watersheds and raise a stink
for miles. Acres of topsoil get washed away by large-scale farming
and pesticides wind up in human breast milk. Small farm and ranch families
are disappearing, while large corporate farms reap huge federal subsidies,
sometimes for growing nothing.
Peter de Garmo is the owner of Pastaworks, a sustainable grocery store
in Portland, and the founder of the Portland chapter of Slow Food,
a group that seeks sustainability in food. "Large-scale farming
comes at an incredible cost," he says. "It's subsidized by
the public at large without the public knowing it subsidizes it."
Some consumers are rebelling against the global marketplace and seeking
out food whose history is known and friendly. While there are alternatives
to mainstream food—organic, biodynamic, fair trade and others—the
idea of a sustainable food system is generating the most interest.
The granola-and-Birkenstock types aren't the only ones behind the
movement. The rock-rib Republican governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds,
supports a state program that requires animals to be tracked from birth,
fed high-quality feed, treated humanely and otherwise remain well-cared
for, under penalty of felony charges. Sustainable food is served in
the restaurants of Yellowstone, Yosemite and other national parks.
In Italy last year, 4,300 small farmers, chefs and other small-scale
producers from around the world gathered for a conference called Terra
Madre, or Mother Earth, to consider alternatives to the present food
Sustainable food "is growing beyond the culinary fringe," says
Worldwatch's Halweil, who also is the author of "Eat Here: Reclaiming
Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket." "It's showing
up in restaurants, supermarkets, even Wal-Mart."
A cascade of factors are driving this new attitude toward food. In
2001, the U.S. Surgeon General released a "Call to Action" that
found more than 60% of Americans are overweight or obese, which is
a major contributor to Type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. Food scares
also have raised awareness. In the 1980s, it was Alar, a chemical sprayed
on apples that was shown to cause cancer, especially in children. In
the 1990s, it was genetically modified organisms—the high-tech
swapping of genes between disparate species to, for example, increase
the output of milk in dairy cows.
But more than any single factor, mad cow disease in Europe has made
people rethink what they put in their bodies. Mad cow, or bovine spongiform
encephalopathy, is believed to be caused by an abnormal protein that
leads to brain damage and eventually kills the infected cow. In humans,
it's believed to cause a variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease,
which leads to a slow and agonizing death as the disease attacks the
But it's in the food-savvy city of Portland that the new food economy
has taken root, and where the future may be taking shape.
One of the first groups to respond to the decline in food quality
was an organization called the Chefs Collaborative, which has some
1,000 chef members, including current Oregon chapter chair Greg Higgins.
Higgins grew up on a truck farm near Buffalo, N.Y., one of six children
in a single-parent family. He wandered west to cook, and opened his
Portland restaurant with a partner in 1994. About that time, he says,
he noticed that both the taste and the look of food were changing. "The
cauliflower I was getting didn't look or taste like the cauliflower
I picked as a kid," he says. "It lacked flavor, intensity,
character and depth." But the revelation came when a salesman
talked him into trying farm-raised salmon. "I didn't like the
way it smelled, I didn't like the way it felt, and it smeared orange
on my cutting board" from the coloring dye, he says.
Higgins is the godfather of sustainable food in Portland, a movement
that started in earnest in the mid- to late-1990s. This progressive,
environmentally aware town with European sensibilities is filled with
savvy gourmets and food activists. With its embarrassment of gastronomic
riches—wild mushrooms and salmon, an array of berries and fruit,
organic dairy farms, rustic bakeries, coffee roasters, vineyards and
a crop of top chefs—Portland has become a destination for serious
eaters. The city was quick to grasp the idea that changing food choices
made sense on every level and would ripple out into the natural, cultural
and economic systems. Sustainable food has crept into nearly every
It's nearly impossible to find white-tablecloth restaurants here,
for instance, that would dare serve farm-raised salmon. There were
two farmers' markets in the 1980s; now there are more than 20. Community
Supported Agriculture, a movement in which people buy shares of produce
from a farm family before it is grown, is booming. Higgins and other
chefs meet regularly with fishermen and farmers.
Sustainability would not mean much if it were relegated to the world
of elite restaurants or expensive organic grocery stores. In Portland
the goal of food activists is to permeate even the culinary demimonde
with local and sustainable alternatives. Burgerville, for example,
a 39-store fast-food restaurant chain based in nearby Vancouver, Wash.,
buys all of its beef from the sustainable ranchers at a co-op called
Country Natural Beef and local dairy products that are not genetically
modified, and it's trying to work out a way to buy no-till sustainable
wheat from eastern Washington. It also offers a special milkshake based
on Oregon's hazelnut season. "Food safety is the No. 1 issue in
our business," says Jack Graves, Burgerville's chief cultural
officer. "And the way to ensure that is to know where the food
is coming from."
New Seasons Market is a sustainable grocery store chain that has thrived
in Portland, a fusion of Whole Foods and Safeway, with twists of its
own. "Our goal is to try and change the food system," says
Brian Rohter, chief executive of New Seasons Market. "People want
to buy locally. We give them the opportunity."
The five New Seasons markets are as large, cheery and well-lighted
as any modern grocery store. You can buy organic chickens and tofu,
but also Doritos and Diet Pepsi. Things are most obviously different
in the produce section. The provenance of apples from China and Chile
is conspicuous on their labels. Apples from Oregon are labeled with
the name and location of the farms where they were grown. So much of
the produce is bought locally, one greengrocer's sole job is to make
contact with Portland-area farmers and arrange to buy their wares for
New Seasons markets.
In the fish department, the fish are graded with green, red and yellow
signs, a system developed by Monterey Bay Aquarium called Seafood Watch,
which publishes a list of seafood that's caught or farmed sustainably.
Red means they are not sustainably caught; green means they meet the
sustainable criteria. Virtually all of the meat is locally and sustainably
raised. New Seasons just started a program to mark with a special sticker
all of its 35,000 products that originate or have value added in Oregon,
Northern California and Washington.
Sustainability obviously makes some things more complicated. It's
much more work to find vendors and manage 20 sources for produce rather
than deal with one institutional provider. And small outfits have trouble
providing quantity. Restaurants have to bend—they don't serve
salmon all year, and only serve vegetables in season. That's why even
proponents say this is not an effort to replace the big food companies,
but only to replace what they can.
Price also is one of the drawbacks to buying food from small-scale
producers. Pork in the grocery store is less than $3 a pound; the pork
Higgins buys is $9. But proponents of sustainable food say that the
price of goods on the grocery store shelf is deceptive. Large-scale
operations can sell goods cheaply because of cheap labor, or by "borrowing" against
the future by causing soil erosion or groundwater depletion, or because
they get the lion's share of the federal subsidies. Often the global
food supply is filled with hormones or pesticides, or is otherwise
not as healthy.
"You can pay your farmer," says Higgins of the Chefs Collaborative, "or
you can pay your doctor."
Rohter says that when most things are near equal, but people know
food is local or sustainably raised, consumers overwhelmingly will
buy local products. "We're not going to guilt-trip anybody or
make judgments about what they buy," he says. "But we share
as much information as possible. Eaters should be able to make informed
At Clint Krebs' spread in the middle of the sun-baked eastern Oregon
desert, he points out the wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail that passed
through here. His grandparents opened a store in what they called Cecil,
but it closed as the homesteaders drifted away from this harsh, dry
land. The store still stands, a monument to the ghost towns that now
dot the rural landscape. As he drives through sheds filled with hundreds
of sheep milling about with their rickety newborn lambs and points
out grazing cattle, he describes the changes brought about after he
joined forces with the Hatfields.
Doc and Connie Hatfield, the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans of the sustainable
beef movement, founded Country Natural Beef with 13 other ranch families
in 1986 at their High Desert Ranch near Brothers, an hour or so out
of Bend. "We were going broke," Connie says. She decided
to talk to a guy at the local gym to find out why eating beef was so
roundly condemned. "He was a big Jack LaLanne type with muscles," she
says. To her surprise, he told her he loved beef, but he couldn't get
it without antibiotics, hormones and excess fat.
A market was born. During the last two decades a new ranching philosophy
has evolved on the high desert of Oregon, moving ranchers out of the
anonymous commodity business and toward a higher-quality branded product. "De-commodify
or die," Connie says. While the co-op has grown to 70 families,
it cannot keep up with the demand, and the Hatfields and other co-op
families are teaching fellow ranchers the same approach, from Texas
to Montana. "We turn someone who wants to buy beef down every
week," Doc says. "Supply is our problem, not the market." As
Connie puts it: "If you're truthful, you don't have to advertise
Krebs says his life, and the lives of other ranchers, has changed
on every level. They stopped using hormones and antibiotics and started
feeding minerals and handling the animals in less stressful ways. Sensitive
riparian areas were fenced off, and cattle are moved more often. And
he and other ranchers now try harder to understand their customers.
The hardest part for some, Krebs says, is the "meet and greet." "Every
rancher in the co-op spends two days a year in front of a meat counter
meeting customers," he says. "For a lot of these ranchers,
the thought of going to Portland is difficult. But everyone has enjoyed
They fetch a premium for their efforts. On average during the past
decade, ranchers in the Country Natural Beef co-op got $120 more for
each cow they sold over the price of traditional commodity beef. And
their land is healthier because their operations better meet environmental
standards and are verified by an independent third party, the Food
Alliance. Young ranch families are coming back to work a ranch they
thought they might have to leave forever. As a result, some Western
towns may survive—or even thrive.
While Portland may be the capital, the push for a sustainable food
system is a fledgling national movement. Catering institutions that
run the kitchens on corporate and college campuses have rallied around
the idea, in large measure because they have been pressured by college
students, but for other reasons as well. "We were losing flavor
on the plate," says Maisie Ganzler, director of communications
and strategic initiatives for Bon Appétit Management Co., a
Palo Alto-based corporation that serves 55 million meals a year at
institutions such as Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. "Tomatoes didn't taste like tomatoes
anymore. We realized we had lost contact with our food supply—it's
bred and grown to travel, not for flavor." They launched a "Farm
to Fork" initiative that allows all of their chefs to buy ingredients
grown within 150 miles of their kitchen—a tenth of the travel
distance of the produce in an average American meal.
The true test, of course, will be the large corporations that dominate
the global food system. Five supermarket chains account for 42% of
U.S. retail food sales, according to a 2001 University of Missouri
study, but they're apparently paying closer attention to growing consumer
awareness about food.
Even Wal-Mart, one of those five corporations and widely considered
hostile to local economies, has participated in "buy local" produce
programs. Beyond food retailing, Anheuser-Busch recently announced
that it would stop buying rice to brew beer in its home state of Missouri
if the state allowed the planting of genetically modified rice. McDonald's
website proclaims the company's commitment to the humane treatment
of animals, and McDonald's and Burger King are discouraging beef producers
from routinely using antibiotics in beef, which some studies suggest
may lead to reduced effectiveness of antibiotics in humans.
The impact of these gestures is not yet clear. And mainstream food
producers see locally grown food as a fad. The National Cattlemen's
Beef Assn. in Denver says that while it supports Country Natural Beef,
its safeguards are unnecessary but appeal to "people who might
not otherwise eat beef," says Dr. Gary Weber, an animal scientist
who is the director of regulatory affairs for the beef association.
Of the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection and certification
process, he says: "We're very confident with all of the levels
of protection in place. We have the safest beef supply in the world." While
antibiotics and hormones are used in cattle, Weber says they are carefully
monitored. "We're dedicated to making decisions based on science."
Food activists say it's time to look at the big picture. Brian Halweil
of the Worldwatch Institute argues that a highly centralized food supply
imported from around the world and controlled by a handful of companies
leaves us much more vulnerable to disruption in the oil supply or climate
warming. "Because agriculture depends on stable and predictable
weather, it will be most affected by climate change," he says. "Anything
we can do to make the global food source more diverse or more decentralized
will help us cope with that shock." Terrorism also has given the
movement a boost—"food security" is a term that wasn't
heard much before Sept. 11, 2001.
In his best-selling book, "Collapse," UCLA geography professor
Jared Diamond argues that what has brought down past civilizations,
from the Norse settlers in Greenland to the inhabitants of Easter Island,
was that they created ways of life that simply couldn't be sustained
over the long haul. Many food activists say that locally raised food
may never completely replace corporate farming, but it could grow to
play much more of a complementary role.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the sustainable food movement
is how quickly a community can create a local food economy. It doesn't
take global agreements, and it doesn't require new legislation. Every
locally grown tomato or hamburger from a nearby cow, the foodies say,
is a vote for a less-polluting, safer—and more delicious—way
Understanding sustainable food
Unlike the term "organic," "sustainable" has no
official government definition, and other definitions can be slippery.
And because customers will pay a premium, many businesses claim that
their food is sustainable when it isn't.
A recent study by the New York Times of eight New York City stores
offering wild salmon, for example, found that six were really selling
farm-raised fish. A Wall Street Journal article found that the organic
grocery chain Whole Foods was misleading consumers by implying that
5% of the retail price of fair trade coffee was going to growers, when
it was 5% of the wholesale price.
Understanding sustainable food means understanding three types of
labels. "First party" means the producer is making the claims. "Second
party" means an industry group has evaluated the product. Urvashi
Rangan, an environmental health scientist at the Yonkers, N.Y.-based
Consumers Union, says the best labels are "third party" labels,
in which an independent organization evaluates the claims being made.
One of the largest third party labels—and rated as accurate
by Consumers Union—is Portland-based Food Alliance, which certifies
225 farms and ranches in 16 states and tries to bring some order to
the chaos of "sustainable." Growers pay a minimum of $400
in annual fees to the Food Alliance, which dispatches an inspector
to assess such things as the reduction or elimination of pesticides,
whether working conditions for laborers are safe and fair, how well
soil and water resources are conserved, and whether animals are treated
humanely. Farms are inspected every three years and are required to
file annual reports. Occasionally there are spot audits.
"For all this they expect market advantage," says Scott
Exo, executive director of Food Alliance. "Access to new markets,
greater market share, price premium."
*Researcher Jessica Gelt contributed to this story.
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