For many years, if a public school district wanted to serve students apples or milk from local farmers, it could face all kinds of hurdles. Schools were locked into strict contracts with distributors, few of whom saw any reason to start bringing in local products. Those contracts also often precluded schools from working directly with local farmers. Continue reading “Why Some Schools Serve Local Food And Others Can’t (Or Won’t)”
About 15 years ago, Jim Vansteenkiste got a phone call from Kroger that changed his life. It was 1997 or ’98, and the fourth-generation farmer had spent decades working the same Michigan land his father had worked before him, about an hour’s drive from Detroit. In winter the land turned into icy white tundra dotted with collard green stalks spiking up through the snow, but even in the middle of a storm he could tell you which field held eggplants the year before, and which held squash. In the summer it was lush and green, and covered in four dozen kinds of vegetables, stuff he’d been selling to Kroger and Farmer Jack — two big grocery chains — his whole life. But then he got the call from a Kroger buyer, telling him he would lose the contract and, with it, half his business. Tall and trim, with the sun-creased eyes of a life worked outdoors, Vansteenkiste knew that unless he figured something out, he could lose the farm, too. Continue reading “How the Local Food Economy Is Challenging Big Food”
“Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?” asks Emily Matchar in her new book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, published in May by Simon & Schuster. Matchar wants to know why many young, middle-class women are returning to the home after their feminist forebears rushed to leave it—and whether the revival of domestic arts like home cooking and canning is also reviving some of the sexism that kept women moored to these tasks. “It’s easy to forget in the face of today’s foodie culture,” Matchar writes, “that cooking is not fun when it’s mandatory.” Continue reading “Food Fight: Feminists and Femivores”
If you follow my Twitter feed @TMMcMillan, you’ll already know that on May 3, 2013, I was honored to receive the James Beard Journalism Award for Food Politics and the Environment. The irony of swanning around in a party dress with a champagne flute for writing about farm workers sleeping in the field is not lost on me — and neither is the fact that I should enjoy such things when they come my way. Here’s hoping this means that America, in general, is a little more interested in talking about things like farm labor than before!
When I was 10, and my family needed to take some kind of snack to parent–teacher conferences, I pulled out the Betty Crocker Cookbook and made croissants from scratch. (They recalled, in taste and appearance, those from a Pillsbury tube.) By 14 I was buying whole pumpkins from farmers down the road to make pumpkin bread, and at 17 I pickled a dozen eggs as a joke for a friend. I have always been, in other words, a cook—and one who wants to do it herself. Continue reading “Kitchen Elemental”
A lovely nod this weekend from the New Yorker’s Daniel Fromson, via his recommended readings:
Theft is also a major theme in “As Common As Dirt,” from last September’s American Prospect, a narrative that is worth revisiting in light of its nomination for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award on Monday. Tracie McMillan, author of the well-received “The American Way of Eating”—a “Nickel and Dimed”-esque account of toiling in a Walmart produce department, an Applebee’s, and the fields of California—returns to the last of these places and introduces readers to the seventy-five-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, who is lovingly sketched down to the plastic bags with which he lines his leaky boots. But it’s McMillan’s willingness to dig into a little-discussed corner of agribusiness, and the straight-talking tone with which she lays out the facts, that makes the piece stand out. The article is about farm-labor contractors, who “give American produce growers what companies like China’s Foxconn offer to Apple: a way to outsource a costly and complicated part of the business”—often at the expense of workers like Mr. Villalobos, who are routinely paid less than what they’ve been promised.
Just a few years ago there were but a smattering of “networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution,” as Grist writer Claire Thompson observed, “networks that include a broad range of operations, from multi-farm CSAs to Craigslist-like virtual markets where buyers and producers can connect.” Continue reading “All Praise the Civics of Food Hubs”
A few months ago, a small farmer in the Northeast approached me at a conference, intense and red-faced. How could I say that Americans shouldn’t pay more for their food?
She sold lettuce and beets to well-heeled women, their ears dangling gold and fingers sporting diamonds. Yet many of them balked at the prospect of paying an extra dollar per pound. To grow her food without extensive chemicals, and to sell her wares at market, she needed to fetch a higher price. Surely, couldn’t these women pay more? Continue reading “Where does your grocery money go? Mostly not to the farmers”
I’m sure this guy meant well, but: Seriously? You email someone you’ve never met to tell them their work is a waste of time? And what, precisely, qualifies you to issue this verdict? Sheesh, internet.
Dear Tracie: Your [sic] a teriffic [sic] writer,but I’m afraid you wasted a year of your life toiling in minimum wage jobs which are held mostly by undocumented immigrants and people with poor educations. All of us eating better will not change their lives.
Quick note: Um, if we got most of America eating well, it WOULD change their lives. Duh.
One of the curious things about doing a semi-ridiculous reporting project—say, leaving behind your life to go work undercover as a farm worker, Walmart produce clerk, and Applebee’s kitchen wretch—is that near-strangers confront you with grand, existential queries. Like: What’s the most important thing you learned? Continue reading “The American Way of Eating”