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The NY Times Business Section: Out to Lunch on the Local Food Debate

In Sunday’s New York Times, Damon Darlin has now weighed into a debate which I am suddenly making a career of noticing, that of publicly lambasting locavores. Normally a tech writer (and perhaps better suited to it), Darlin has wheeled out some of the same tired points that others have recently, making them officially clichéd.

It takes only 12 words before he drops Michael Pollan’s name, whose best-selling books argue eloquently for a better food system, and in the next paragraph he mentions Michelle Obama’s organic garden at the White House, though he makes no mention of her new “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity, for which this garden is a tool.

I was going to dismiss Mr. Darlin’s piece as not worthy of notice despite its prominent placement in the Paper of Record and thus avoid writing my third column lamenting this misplaced disrespect for eaters who care what they eat (I swear I do have better, more enjoyable things to write about), but then he said this: Read more

Why I Disagree with Thomas Keller, and What Local Food Teaches Me

Thomas Keller is one the world’s most celebrated chefs with his fleet of restaurants in Yountville, Las Vegas, and New York. At the same time, he is a vocal “thorn in the side” of local food advocates, with his direct dismissals of the locavore movement.

His message was much the same this year when he spoke at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Foods Institute a few weeks ago.  Speaking on a panel called “The Future of Food: Scaling Down,” Chef Keller made the distinction between geographically local and temporally local food.

That is, he personally considers local food to be anything that he can get at his doorstep within one day of harvest – even if that means flying that product overnight from across the country.

Here are some excerpts from Keller’s comments on the panel: Read more

There is No Box: Big Ideas About Urban Agriculture and Local Food Systems

I’ve been pondering a lot the last three weeks, trying to think outside the box, and trying to proceed as if there is no box at all. Two weeks of conferences in a row, one the Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Conference, the second sponsored by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Very different conferences, but a common theme: Food Systems All the Time.

At the UC-sponsored professional conference that I recently attended, I had the opportunity to hear historian James McWilliams speak.   I have read some of McWilliams’s work previously and greatly admire his research and work. (He’s also an incredibly likable and humorous man on a personal level). Like me, McWilliams is an historian attempting to use the past to inform current public policy in the nation’s food system. (I like this. We need more historians informing public policy in general, and particularly vis-à-vis food systems). Our research focuses on different areas; we agree on some things, but disagree on others. I will be reviewing his upcoming book, Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little Brown, June 2009), for this blog. Read more