As a movement, you know you've arrived when there's a backlash that says the opposite of whatever your movement is. I laughed out loud when I saw "distavore" for the first time in print in Joel Stein's recent article on Extreme Eating in Time magazine. He argues that "eating in the 21st century is part travel, part cultural mash-up" and the idea that food should come from within 100 miles of where we live "anti-globalization idiocy." To "prove it," he makes a meal of purely "farm-to-airplane" food where everything comes from no fewer than 3,000 miles from his home in L.A. He says that for this meal he "ate the way only a very rich person could have dined just 15 years ago." Because eating like the insanely wealthy is really the only thing everyone wants?
Perhaps he'd enjoy that distavore meal even more if he were living (like a king) in the new Lyons-Dubai. Strange as it seems, the people in Dubai officially have more money than God and are building a replica of Lyons in Dubai, probably right next to the ski jump place: "Lyons-Dubai City will cover an area of about 700 acres, roughly the size of the Latin Quarter of Paris, and will contain the university, a hotel school, a film library, subsidiaries of Lyons museums and a football training center run by Olympique Lyonnais."
Wendell Berry already covered the real issues behind globalization in his 1995 book called "Another Turn of the Crank." Read his prescient essay Farming and the Global Economy. Although I'm in favor of food as a catalyst for global understanding (Stein's argument), I think Berry's point of view that we have so few farmers now and that the agrarian class has been so systematically destroyed we need to consider the issue of food security very carefully.
If that's too heavy, perhaps this article on how an Extreme Locavore Household Vows Not to Forage Further Than Own Refrigerator could help both Stein's sense of humor and his knowledge of the issues. Even better than a backlash is a parody.
Stein's article is a fine example of the danger of oversimplification and the inability of many smart people (in the press and beyond) to adequately analyze and articulate complex issues. Does he really think I'm that dumb? Even in my own limited mind, I'm able to find more nuance than the simple polarity he uses to characterize the "distavore v. locavore" issue. It's about a little bit more than enjoyment v. privation and jet fuel dollars v. SUV fuel dollars. Food security anyone?
I love the Extreme Eating article because it's so wrong and so emblematic of how we get our news these days. It reminds me of this Ben Hecht quote:
"Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock."
Luckily for me, Time Magazine also has this article by Michael Pollan on Six Rules for Eating Wisely that just goes to show that it is possible to address the complexity of food issues in a simple way:
1. Don't eat anything your great-great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
2. Avoid foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.
3. Spend more, eat less.
4. Pay no heed to nutritional science or the health claims on packages.
5. Shop at the farmers' market.
6. How you eat is as important as what you eat.
PS - Speaking of politics, John Edwards seems to be the political candidate with the most nuanced view of the complex food issues facing us now.