The US Food and Drug Administration recently announced that the following things can no longer be fed to cows: cow blood, poultry litter (consisting of bedding, spilled feed, feathers and fecal matter), and restaurant wastes. I donít know whether to feel relieved that theyíve been removed from the list or shocked that they were ever on it to begin with. And I shudder to think whatís still on the list.
All of this is enough to make one pine for simpler, more natural days. Do you remember when food was fun?
For many of us, it requires traveling back in time to when scallions could give you killer breath but not actually kill you, to when all fish was good for you, to when carbohydrates wasnít a four-letter word, and to when beef still was for dinner.
For me, it means traveling back to last nightís dinner. Mind you, it wasnít a feast, but it sure tasted like one: a bratwurst sandwich served with a heaping mound of sauerkraut and washed down with a pale ale. Whatís more impressive than the meal itself is that all the ingredients were natural and were either produced or processed locally, right down to the generous slathering of sweet and spicy mustard. No antibiotics. No growth hormones. No perversions of the natural food chain. No guilt and no worries.
Some will call me a food snob or an elitist, but they havenít seen my bank account. Although I may not be rich financially, Iím rich gastronomically. If this is the case, itís because I refuse to buy into the myth of ďcheap food.Ē There are reasons why cheap food is cheap and, as the mad cow crisis points out, you might not want to know what they are. I know and thatís why Iíd rather eat a modestly-built home-made sandwich using quality local ingredients than supersize myself at the local burger joint (which, of course, isnít really local).
A large part of the problem is cultural. America still suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to food. We place Italy and France on a culinary pedestal and rightly so. What we donít realize is that part of the reason that the Italians and the French tend to eat healthier and tastier food than we do is that theyíve accepted that quality food has a price. According to Canadian government surveys, Americans spend an average of 5.49% of their disposable income on food each year, the French 9.21% and the Italians 10.58%.
I know from personal experience that the Europeans not only invest more money in their food but also more time. In many parts of Europe, food remains the axis around which all social life revolves. Compare this with the 50% of Americans for whom "dinner conversation" is what one does during TV commercials and you see that weíre talking about two very different approaches.
In the end, itís about getting our priorities straight, both as individuals and a society. Food that saves us money while impoverishing our health, our local farming communities, and our gastronomy isnít really cheap after all. And it certainly isnít fun.
Roger Doiron works for the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine and is founder of Kitchen Gardeners International.