Greenpoint: Food truth need not be stranger than fiction
In the sci-fi western “Firefly,” there’s a scene where the intuitive mechanic serves the doctor a birthday cake, then confesses it’s made of the same protein bar they just ate for dinner, that being the only food available on their spacecraft.
“But I tried to get the frosting as chocolatey tasting as possible,” she says.
Hey, they live in outer space and it’s 500 years in the future, so living on powdered nutrient mixtures, shaped into various forms, make sense.
Here in the present, I’m getting confused by all the food trying to be what it is not. Farm-free food? Lab-based food? Meat grown on collagen scaffolds? Flour brewed from bacteria and hydrogen? Improbable burgers made of plants but formulated to look, taste and bleed like meat?
Don’t get me wrong. I love plant-based food. I call it fruits and grains and vegetables and nuts. That’s just the way I prefer to eat my plants.
I’m old-fashioned, I guess. I like growing food and eating it, and having it taste like what it is — a carrot, a beet, okra, cabbage, tomatoes, fennel. There are enough flavors, textures and structures, enough variety of nutrients to satisfy me. I’ll make a bean burger out of beans and enjoy the taste and texture of beans. I don’t need to pretend it’s made of meat.
One argument for why we will need, in the future, to grow food in labs or factories instead of on farms is that there are too many people and not enough land. I get that, especially when large-scale droughts, fires and floods are destroying land. I get that our factory-style farms, with monoculture of plants and intensive feedlots and chemical inputs, are not helping our planet.
Does that mean it will be somehow immoral to farm in the future? Wasteful or impossible to have a garden? Can’t we grow real food, in real soil that we protect and improve through good gardening and composting and farming practices? Can we understand that a cow grazing in a pasture, fertilizing the earth as she turns sun and grass into milk or meat, is not the same thing as hundreds or thousands of animals penned together in a “concentrated animal feeding operation,” all pooping and burping in that same concentrated area?
One problem with growing food in labs and factories is that likely it will eventually be grown by large corporations, concentrating production — and wealth, and control — into very few hands.
I kind of prefer the DIY method — a little garden and a couple of chickens in every yard, supporting a family or two. Or a small farm growing food for a local area. Mixed-use farms, with trees for fruits and bushes for berries, fields for vegetables and forest for wildlife and firewood. Maybe I’m a romantic, but I think a lot of people who grow food and work the soil are also working to protect and sustain the planet.
Maybe someday we’ll need to grow our pancakes in labs and our meat on scaffolds, or make our birthday cakes out of dinner powder.
For now, I’m still planning on growing a vegetable garden and milking goats to make cheese. I’m stubborn, I guess. Or old-fashioned.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Feb. 16. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s..