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The Omnivore's Dilemma

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Big Organic

Greetings from Silver Spring, MD. My wife and I are here visiting our daughter, her husband, and our new granddaughter. It's great to be a granddad.

I've been re-reading Chapter 9 — "Big Organic" — since we've been shopping at a Whole Foods store this week. My daughter and I talked about Whole Foods as we walked home yesterday with cloth bags of groceries over our shoulders. On the one hand, many of the criticisms Pollan makes of Whole Foods are valid. On the other hand, we had a great shopping experience there ... and we were more than willing to walk by a Safeway on our way to the Whole Foods store.

This chapter of The Omnivore's Dilemma prompted an interesting exchange of letters between John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, and Michael Pollan. You'll find Mackey's first letter and links to others at:

http://wholefoodsmarket.com/socialmedia/jmackey/2006/05/26/an-open-letter-to-michael-pollan/

Pollan's criticisms have prompted some changes at Whole Foods ... most notably increased efforts to source more foods locally. My daughter and I enjoyed the result when we purchased some great goat cheese from a nearby farm. On the other hand, much is still the same at Whole Foods.

I'd like to pose the following questions for further discussion: Can we deliver a more sustainable food system to everyone without exploiting the efficiencies of the modern supermarket industry as Whole Foods has done? If we answer in the affirmative, how would that food system work? It takes a lot of food to feed everyone in a large metropolitan area like the Twin Cities of the Washington, DC area. I'm convinced we can do better than we're doing now, but figuring out the best way to improve our food system on a regional scale will be a difficult challenge ... and the solutions may surprise us.

2 Comments

Hi all,

I wanted to quickly respond to Professor King's post about what it might take to build a more sustainable food distribution system.

I am struck by how central peddlers were to urban life earlier in the 20th century. They provided cheap, fresh food at very modest prices to working, but also middle-class Americans. Moreover, they did so in ways that, by our standards, would be pretty efficient--buying up goods in larger wholesale markets and carrying or trucking it out to neighborhoods (so individuals weren't all traveling in to city centers or larger markets). Food was generally sold in small quantities, so it was affordable and likely to be used. These merchants sold in evenings and early mornings, when people were home and planning meals for the day. And, they purchased almost entirely through very local networks. In short, peddlers were crucial links in the food distribution chain. From my limited research, they disappeared more because cities saw them as a nuisance than because people stopped wanting what they sold.


Peddlers would not solve all the problems of our current food distribution system --but I do think, with some 21st century twists, a resurgence of peddling would encourage some positive changes. And I'm curious to hear what others think.

Tracey raises an interesting point. I am wondering whether Farmers Markets currently serve that function to some extent? Now that they penetrate to the city center and to many suburbs, there are multiple opportunities to pick up local produce. Yesterday, I was able to swing by the market held Wednesdays on Church Street on the Minneapolis campus of the U. I picked up fresh organic strawberries, which we turned into frozen strawberry yogurt that evening. Opportunity became inspiration, which then became dessert.