As far as I'm concerned, food is always good news. But on to the particulars, the New York Times has a great opinion piece by Mark Bittman entitled: Food: Six Things to Feel Good About. Not surprisingly, several of these things have to do with the rising local foods movement and the increasing awareness of people about the quality and sources of their food. Some highlights:
- Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh suggests [the "burgeoning food movement"] has the potential to surpass and save the environmental movement.
- Walmart plans to re-regionalize its food distribution network. The world’s biggest retailer pledged to “double sales of locally sourced produce.”
- There are now more than 6,000 farmers markets nationwide — about a 250 percent increase since 1994 (significant: there are half as many as there are domestic McDonald’s), and 900 of them are open during the winter. They’re searchable too, thanks to the USDA. (Community Supported Agriculture programs — CSAs — and food coops are also searchable, courtesy of localharvest.org.)
- Wholesome Wave began a voucher program in 2008 that doubles the value of federal food stamps (SNAP) at participating farmers markets; that program has grown more than tenfold in less than three years.
- Urban agriculture is on the rise. If you’re smirking, let me remind you that in 1943, 20 million households (three-fifths of the population at that point) grew more than 40 percent of all the vegetables we ate. City governments are catching on, changing zoning codes and policies to make them more ag-friendly, and even planting edible landscaping on city hall properties.
- The number of farms is at last increasing, although it’s no secret that farmers are an endangered species: the average age of the principal operator on farms in the United States is 57...Efforts by nonprofits like the eagerly awaited FoodCorps and The Greenhorns, both of which aim to introduce farming to a new generation of young people, are giving farming a new cachet of cool. Meanwhile, the Nebraska-based Land Link program matches beginning farmers and ranchers with retirees so that the newbies gain the skills (and land) they need.
- U.S.D.A. is behind the “Chefs Move to Schools” program, which enlists culinary professionals to help revamp nutrition curricula and the food itself; around 550 schools are participating.
All of these things are exciting to see. Where I would like to see more of is affordability and consumer access to fresh local foods. I think we have made inroads to access but not so much affordability, as our culture has turned local produce from a necessity into more of a niche market for people who can afford to pay a premium. If you see good examples of how fresh local food is being made affordable, send them to me and I will share them.