Sustainable Food Systems in Utah

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that modern U.S. food industry, a combination of agribusiness and corporate food processors, tends to be harmful to our environment, our health, and the viability of our rural communities. Many of the leading agribusiness companies are actively attempting to use genetic modification and the loosening of restrictions on patent law to create virtually monopoly control of the agricultural sector.

But the agribusiness model is not an inevitable nor inescapable feature of our world. There is a growing movement to return to “slow food,” more sustainable ways of cultivating, obtaining, and preparing food, ways which typically hearkening back to the traditional methods which have stood the test of time. Mark Pollan, one of the primary spokesmen of this movement has come up with a slogan which distills the essential concept behind the Slow Food movement. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”—advice rather consistent with the essential dietary concepts of the Word of Wisdom.

Additionally, instead of relying on impersonal, sprawling international networks of commerce spanning thousands of miles, the movement seeks to re-integrate and bolster local producer-consumer networks. The U.S. has a strong rural tradition, as much here in Utah and in the history of the Church as anywhere. But we seem to have become confused as to what that means. Idealizing the superficial trappings of rural life—boots, hats, rodeos, or country music—does nothing substantial to support or honor that rural heritage. If we really want to show respect for that heritage, we should support the vocation and lifestyle which is at the root of traditional rural communities: the family farmer.

There is a growing assortment of alternative options from which you can make more sustainable food choices. And with the growing season soon upcoming, now is an good time to see what appeals to you. We can grow our own food through gardening (I know two local bloggers who are raising their own chickens for eggs and poultry in urban/suburban communities). There are a number of local organizations involved in education on local gardening, such as Wasatch Gardens and the Utah botanical Center in Kaysville. Maybe you would enjoy the dynamic community atmosphere of the various farmers markets around the state part of a renewed tradition around the U.S. over the past couple decades. Consider joining a local CSA, or (Community Supported Agriculture), in which you purchase shares of a local farmer’s harvest, providing the farmer more money up-front and therefore more financial security, and providing you with seasonal fresh produce. When you decide to eat out, look into one of the restaurants which chose to patronize local food producers.

As we support these alternatives, we will build more sustainable agricultural and economic networks. We will develop more ecologically beneficial food systems and protect the bio-diversity of the world’s bounty. We will promote more healthful diets.

And you may just find that real food tastes better.

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8 Responses to “Sustainable Food Systems in Utah”

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Real food DOES taste better. This is one thing I really miss about my mission days in Portugal, and an area where I can fully concede that Europe and other areas have a major leg up on us fast-paced, unhealthy Americans. Unfortunately, even much of Europe has gone the way of fast food, but even in the urban areas, they really appreciate a long, drawn-out meal with friends and family that lasts several hours. I won’t say that they were the model of temperance, as meals were often events and they liked to stuff us as full as they could get us. But at least there was a somewhat balanced meal, with fruit and salad, and far more natural, healthful ingredients like olive oil and fresh-baked bread, rather than the disgusting fluffy Wonder Bread I nearly gagged on when I came home in 2000. I don’t think many Americans know what they’re missing. And it couldn’t hurt to have a few more meals that are less rushed and we actually sit with our families and linger rather than rush off to watch TV. That’s how I was raised, and it seems a tradition worth preserving. You might even say conservative.

  2. Cstanford Says:

    One of the things I miss the most about Utah is riding on the bus and looking out the window at large gardens behind houses. I wonder how much better people would eat if every household cultivated at least a small plot of land with fruits and vegetables.

    I recently read an op-ed in the NYT from a farmer in Minnesota who wanted to grow more organic vegetables for the local markets and ran into federal farm policies that kept him from doing that. That sort of nonsense needs to be fixed or local organic food will continue to be rare and expensive, because until home gardening becomes a more common practice *and* more households get the means to do it (I’m thinking of apartment and condo-dwellers), most people will continue to rely on other producers. And if they can’t afford the locally-grown good stuff, they’ll have to settle for the mass-produced long-distance mediocre stuff.

  3. D. Sirmize Says:

    Since real food is much more expensive than Wal-Mart food, I get most of my family’s food at Wal-Mart (or Albertsons- whatever). I try to mitigate the “fake food factor” by growing most of my own produce.

    I try to have lunch at Whole Foods as often as I can, because while grocery shopping there would kill our budget, individual meals aren’t too pricey.

    One thing that’s fun to do when I go to Whole Foods in SLC is to find Rush Limbaugh on the AM radio (though I’m not really a fan), turn it up, and roll down my windows as I’m parking there.

    Try it sometime. It’s hilarious.

  4. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Aaron, you’re right, looking to maintain valuable traditions and heritage is indeed conservative in the original sense of the word. Unfortunately, political conservatism has abandoned the traditional food systems, along with the frugality (another kind of conservation) I just posted about, in their mad rush to embrace corporatism. It is the liberals–the people which conservatives disparage as “hippies,” “granolas,” “populists,” and “greens”–which have respected those values and traditions. Even when it comes to being conservative, the conservatives have it all wrong.

  5. Derek Staffanson Says:

    D, I’ve deleted your comment as I presume you were going to ask me to do. Feel free to repost the insult under your preferred user account.

  6. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I won’t try to argue with you. I do think you make an important distinction that it is corporatism that has abandoned traditional food systems. There are plenty of conservatives who feel just as strongly about the quality of nutrition, or lack thereof, and its continued freefall. I don’t look at it as a political issue. It could be solved if enough people really cared about shaving a few pounds off their gargantuan American bodies.

    Interesting comments about the definition of conservative. The switcheroo that has occurred is true on a number of topics, and part of why I feel the labels we use are so useless to begin with. In the first place, it emphasizes our disagreements and causes people to hate each other and make no attempt to listen to each other, and start talk shows where the host rants and yells for three hours straight like Michael Savage. And if that’s not bad enough by itself, it becomes hard to nail down who believes what as things change over time. However, I wouldn’t concede that conservatives have it all wrong. There are still a number of issues they cling to because they have been proven correct over time, but you are certainly right that conservative isn’t really conservative on a large number of things.

  7. alliegator Says:

    If people had any idea what a real tomato tasted like, and realized how easy it is to grow a plant in their backyard, or even in a pot on a balcony, there would be a lot more people who gardened.

    A couple of years ago I was at the grocery store buying some canning supplies to can green beans, and the guy behind me in the checkout line said, “do people still can their own food?”.

    For my first child, I bought little jars of baby food most of the time. I thought that was what you had to do. My next child’s first vegetable was mushed up zucchini from the garden. We’ve just forgotten that there’s another way to get food besides going to the grocery store.

  8. D. Sirmize Says:

    “D, I’ve deleted your comment as I presume you were going to ask me to do. Feel free to repost the insult under your preferred user account.”

    Hah! ‘Preciate it. I don’t remember what I said though. Something horrible, I’m sure.

    I do wish there was some other way to contact you in a non-post comment fashion, though. A couple weeks ago I wanted to validate a comment you made, but my response would have been directed to you personally and there is no mechanism in place here to do that. By virtue of the WordPress comment management system, you have my email address.

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