This week, I watched a fascinating documentary called Beer Wars and I heard an excellent interview on NPR with Barry Estabrook, author of Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit.† Both the film and the book center around the argument that modern food production sacrifices quality for quantity.
In Tomatoland, Eastbrook discusses the ridiculousness of, for example, having tomatoes readily available in the middle of January.† Modern tomato farming, he explains, strives to produce as many tomatoes as possible and to make them available 365 days a year.† The result is flavorless tomatoes that are pumped full of all kinds of nasty chemicals.
Similarly, in Beer Wars, Anat Baron explains that the brewing industry in the United States is dominated by Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors.† In order to maintain their enormous shares of the market, they have developed pale ales that have very little flavor.† Therefore, while there is little to love about their beers, as there is with more unique beers from local breweries, there isnít really anything to hate, either.† Their beers, while bland and boring, perform well when catering to mass markets.
This unhappy state of affairs is deeply disheartening.† Food is an important aspect of culture, so by sacrificing the quality of our food, we are actually diminishing the depth of American culture itself.† Whatís more, we are failing to respect the deeply human desire to enjoy food and savor life.† By accepting food that is flavorless and generic, we are doing a terrible disservice to ourselves, our quality of life, and our culture.
I feel this tendency to make all things generic is becoming prevalent not only in the food production industry, but in other parts of American culture, as well.† The American landscape is littered with strip malls and chain stores, and itís often difficult to tell one town from the next.† When towns and cities lose their character, then America as a whole has no character at all.† This is why the local and organic food movements are so important.† In addition to the obvious health benefits, retaining the character of our food is a statement against the corporate forces working to make American culture generic, only to increase their profit margins.† Food with character represents a culture with character.