Look, I hate the military-industrial complex as much as the next hemp-seed snacking, kombucha-brewing, raw-milk swigging real food revolutionary. After all, they're the ones who saturated our soil with their surplus nitrogen in the wake of World War II, reversing generations of careful land stewardship in the name of moving forward. They declared corn King, and turned our supermarkets into minefields littered with fat, salt and sugar bombs. Our blown-up kids? Just collateral damage in the eternal battle to boost Big Food's bottom line.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Agribiz ascendancy; the same military-industrial complex that locked us into this fuel-ish food chain also gave us the key to free ourselves--the Internet. Presumably, the Department of Defense didn't develop this technology in order to empower citizen activists, but isn't it nice to finally have an unintended consequence we can cheer about? Unlike, say, cross-contamination from genetically modified crops, or E. coli-tainted produce, or fertilizer-fed algae blooms or--oh, nevermind.
The Internet has proved to be extremely fertile ground for the good food movement, nurturing a virtual community of sustainably minded farmers, foodies, and activists. Websites championing the agrarian agenda are sprouting up everywhere, like Roundup-resistant super weeds, ready to take on the unsustainable status quo.
The challenge, now, is how to keep track of them all. And that's where the Eat Well Guide's new booklet Cultivating The Web: High Tech Tools For The Sustainable Food Movement comes in handy. This nifty free guide is available now, in its entirety, on the Eat Well Guide website, and a print edition will make its debut later this month at Slow Food Nation (full disclosure compels me to admit that I was a consultant to this project, which turned out wonderfully nonetheless.)
Cultivating The Web gives a terrific overview of the many ways that such digital tools as social networking, YouTube, and wikis have helped promote an alternative food system, one that aims to give all Americans access to what the Slow Food folks like to call "good, clean, and fair" food. That's good as in delicious, clean as in sustainably produced, and fair, meaning the workers who grow it are not exploited, and the fruits of their labor are not just for an elite few.
There are anecdotes and quotes from a cross section of movers and shakers in the real food revolution highlighting the many ways that cutting edge technology is being used to revive our local communities, help folks find fresh, healthy foods, and support sustainable agriculture. My favorite is from environmentalist Bill McKibben:
It is undeniably odd, and lovely, that one of the most important parts of our food system--a little behind rain and sun and seed, but not so much--are the new digital tools that allow us to bypass the big advertisers, the mega-chains, the junk peddlers and instead find the myriad other people growing, processing, cooking, and eating actual delicious food.
Whether you're curious to know more about organic standards, or contemplating a stint working on a farm, or looking to find a CSA in your neighborhood, or trying to figure out what varieties of fish are sustainably harvested, you'll find pages of resources in Cultivating The Web to steer you to the websites with the information you're seeking. And the beauty of the online edition is that it will be continually updated, as new and noteworthy sites spring up.
In the not-quite-five years since The Eat Well Guide made its debut in conjunction with The Meatrix, its scope has widened from its original focus on sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs and dairy into a comprehensive, free online directory that lists thousands of outlets all over the United States and Canada where folks can find fresh, locally grown food, from farmers' markets, shops and restaurants to CSA programs and family farms. And they've added advocacy organizations, as well as "water conscious ratings" for establishments that offer tap water instead of bottled, and practice other conservation measures.
Anyone who travels knows how incredibly hard it can be to find healthy eating options on the road; now, the Eat Well Guide is also launching a new interactive mapping tool, Eat Well Everywhere (EWE), to help you locate fresh, local foods wherever you go. A mash-up of Eat Well's listings and Google Maps, EWE gives travelers the chance to get off the beaten--or, more accurately, battered and deep-fried--path and create a custom "eat-inerary" of restaurants, farms, and even B & B's where you can soothe your road-weary soul with real food.
The very notion of using high technology to promote eating low on the food chain may seem incongruous to some folks--specifically, Wendell Berry. Berry, one of America's most august agrarians, penned an essay back in 1987 entitled "Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer." He saw no upside to this new technology:
That computers are expected to become as common as TV sets in "the future" does not impress me or matter to me. I do not own a TV set. I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work.
Well, thirty-one years later, The Eat Well Guide's using computers to build community, support family farmers, and bring eaters and growers together on a scale that was unimaginable a few decades back. Is it time for Berry to eat his words and get an Apple?