the day-late & dollar-short Friday post

An odd thing happened this week. Two different people have pointed me to this book & the article about it in the Economist. Both said, “This article made me think of you for several reasons!”

A girl in my program recently said, “When I think of someone who’s really tuned-in to what they want to do, really focused, I think of you.” I thought, Neat! But then… I don’t know if that’s because I’m as obsessed with food as I feared. Or if I harass people about food too much. Or if, just maybe, I really have–gasp–figured out what I’m supposed to be doing in life.

I’ve been thinking about this endlessly, & I’m trying to, for myself, organize it all in words somewhere. How do these things I’m interested in all really fit together? Where are they taking me? What does our marriage’s future look like–in terms of location, home & homesteading potential? How does France come back into our lives, because neither of us are quite able to let it go?

Sometimes, I struggle to explain to people what it is that I feel for France. I came across an article on NPR called “Why McDonald’s in France Doesn’t Feel Like Fast Food” that sums up a lot of what I love about that country. Joe & I had to spend a larger amount of time than we’d like to admit at the MacDo when we first moved to Nancy, France. We didn’t have Internet, & we didn’t feel bad ordering just a coffee (which was pretty legit coffee, by the way) & squatting for at least an hour. We never at the food, but the whole atmosphere of the place was just… different.

Maybe it was the glasses. Or the nice presentation of the pastries. Or the fact that they had pastries. Or that the meal options had royal titles.

When I read this article, I was surprised by how well it summarizes aspects of the two country’s food systems. For example, rather than the corn-fed, CAFO cattle of the U.S., MacDo France has

… all grass fed, which many argue makes them tastier. Growth hormones are illegal here and each animal has a passport showing where it was born, raised, and slaughtered, according to McDonald’s France. That’s called traceability, and we don’t yet have such a national system in place.

As for chicken nugget lovers, French chickens, unlike some of their American counterparts, are not rinsed in chlorine to disinfect them. The regular use of chlorine in the U.S. chicken industry is why poulet americain has long been interdit in the European Union.

I don’t think I would have the perspective on food & what is truly possible in a food system that feeds millions of people if I hadn’t walked the farmers’ markets of Sunday mornings in France. It makes sense for them in a way it, at some point after WWII, stopped making sense to us that food comes from farmers. That we must work with our farmers and pay them a fair price with the expectation that we get fair (untainted, “unfooledaroundwith”*) food.

Now, this works in France because (1) the EU has far stricter policies on what processes are safe for human consumption (2) France is smaller & can work more easily within its means to feed its people. Can the U.S. feed people in the same way? I don’t know. People say probably not. I argue against that, & Organic Valley is helping the argument.

Organic Valley is huge. Organic Valley is also farmer-owned & organic. They operate on an interesting model: a supermarket brand-meets-co-op. This is how that breaks down:

45% of profits to farmers
45% of profits to employees
10% of profits to community

Yeah,okay. And how does this prove my point?

Once, when helping my dad on a job in the country, I had some time to talk with the man who owned the house, a small brick home surrounded by his corn fields. He said that at least once, he had walked into his fields with a gun after seeing people inspecting his crop. He knew they were from the company whose seeds he’d planted. He knew they could cause trouble. He felt he didn’t have a choice but to buy the seeds again the next year. And the year after that.

Because they paid him. He got by. He wasn’t sure that, without the full system of seed & its accompanying fertilizer, he’d be able to get by. He felt he had no choice. Each time I talk to a farmer, we circle back to the same thing.

It didn’t used to be this way.

It’s not like it used to be.

Organic Valley is one of the best examples our country has today of giving farmers a choice–an option to go organic, have a voice at the table, get a fair price & not go it alone. At WFAN’s conference, as I mentioned earlier, I met organic farmers who were making it work without a co-op. Their communities were receptive; they were utilizing CSAs; everyone was happy. But what makes people doubt the U.S.’s ability to go organic a  less conventional route is the lack of infrastructure: Would groceries have stocked shelves & would food deserts be more barren if we didn’t have these large corporations pooling the food for us?

Again, I don’t know. I live in the Midwest &, thankfully, have my pick of farmers at the moment. But I do know that the farmers are happy to be growing the food, & they’d be happy to sell it to anyone that wants to eat it. Local is great–the less transport the better–but not every local climate can feed itself. For those places far from Wisconsin that need dairy, there’s Organic Valley.

Our country loves capitalism, & the crux of capitalism is the basic law of supply & demand. When The Consumer want it & are willing to pay, The Market will provide it. We, the Consumers, are saying we want it, & people are figuring out how to get it to us. We just have to say, more loudly, what we don’t want for dinner.

In the States, we’ve been incredibly fortunate. We have (almost) always figured out how to have our food needs met. (I’m talking on the large scale, though I acknowledge that there still exists a large amount of hunger in the States.) We won’t go hungry if we ask for a change in the system. The system will have to adapt, & it’s starting to figure out how.

In the mean time, avoid the MacDo until you’re in France. And really, just avoid chicken nuggets forever.


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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One Response to the day-late & dollar-short Friday post

  1. Pingback: ten seconds | francofile

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