I don’t recommend arguing with sanctimonious Bay Area mommies; they are bullies and it’s generally a good idea to stay away from them. And while it’s doubtful there is an argument out there that can change their mind about an issue, their worldview is destined to collapse in a decade or so (at which point they pick up a new cause). But it’s worth knowing why they are wrong. Currently, their biggest cause is food, which has to be sustainable, organic, perhaps government-mandated and, above all, local, because that’s what good for the planet.
And so it’s paramount to teach our children to grow and consume local, and every self-respecting elementary around here boasts some sort of gardening patch. I call them botany labs. I remember having an assignment like that in my Soviet school once. We were to place a leek in a glass jar filled with water and try to grow an onion. It was exciting at first, but after watching the root swell and the greens spout for a few days, I was through.
Blogging buddy An American Housewife [Occasionally] in London (and now on PJMedia) had a terrific post about foodie educational priorities with a terrific link to Caitlin Flanagan’s essay on gardening programs in California public schools. Annoying, white, upper middle class SAHMs (don’t call them housewives) are shoving grade school gardening curriculum down everyone’s throat, and at the expense of what a few decades ago was considered learning:
The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt). The galvanizing force behind this ideology is Alice Waters, the dowager queen of the grown-locally movement. Her goal is that children might become “eco-gastronomes” and discover “how food grows”—a lesson, if ever there was one, that our farm worker’s son might have learned at his father’s knee—leaving the Emerson and Euclid to the professionals over at the schoolhouse. Waters’s enormous celebrity, combined with her decision in the 1990s to expand her horizons into the field of public-school education, has helped thrust thousands of schoolchildren into the grip of a giant experiment, one that is predicated on a set of assumptions that are largely unproved, even unexamined. That no one is calling foul on this is only one manifestation of the way the new Food Hysteria has come to dominate and diminish our shared cultural life, and to make an educational reformer out of someone whose brilliant cookery and laudable goals may not be the best qualifications for designing academic curricula for the public schools.
Flanagan is mostly concerned with the children of Mexican laborers who are overrepresented in California public schools. The “cruel trick” she talks about is the return of students to their agrarian roots, the roots that they presumably try to escape. But the post-educational (I don’t know what else to call them) attitudes of upper middle class mommies don’t do much for white kids either, considering that so many of them find themselves unable to compete with their Asian peers. We see it in Cupertino, CA where white students are outperformed by their driven Asian neighbors that Caucasians are fleeing the area.
Stephen Budiansky reviewed some freshly pressed foodie literature for a recent issue of Wall Street Journal. One of them, “The Locavore’s Dilemma” by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu sounds like an interesting read:
Mr. Desrochers and Ms. Shimizu, a married couple who are both professional economists, present a counterintuitive but well-supported case that local self-sufficiency is the worst thing you can do for the environment, since it requires many crops to be grown in the wrong places, with damaging ecological consequences. American farmers, they observe, used to grow wheat locally in the Shenandoah Valley, tilling steep and rocky slopes—and unleashing a torrent of soil erosion. With the shift of grain farming to the far more productive and erosion-resistant soils of the Midwest, “more grain is now being produced on fewer acres and, overall, more habitat is available for wildlife.” Their study of the history of American agriculture is one of the strongest points of this book.
Famines were common in the past precisely because food security rested on the vagaries of local conditions rather than the resiliency of trade, they observe: “Subsistence farmers periodically starve while commercial agricultural producers who rely on monocultures for their livelihood don’t.”
Budiansky notes the didactic tone of most of the foodie books. Unfortunately, the whole foodie culture is permeated by smugness and moralism. One of the nice things about living in the Bay Area is that food is superb; quality and variety is outstanding. DH keeps telling me that we will never leave California because I can’t survive without my $8 sandwiches (he has a long list of thing without which I wouldn’t survive). Seriously, gastronomy is one area where hippies are allowed to excel — except that they have to ruin it all with their self-righteousness.
Ironically, they all went to 4-year colleges where they’ve heard of Nietzsche, and Dionysian ecstasy and how Judeo-Christian morality prevents people from enjoying life. Personally, I don’t blame Judeo-Christian morality. Around here we are not allowed to enjoy sex because of feminism and can’t have humor because of political correctness. And while everyone is into food, being fat and jolly is an affront to liberalism, alone with sipping a cup of coffee not stamped “fair trade”.
These days fast food chains put nutritionally correct items on their menus. And yet I noticed that they also come up with indulgent and irreverent items, like a bacon sundae, just to let their customers know that they didn’t completely sell out. Well, at least somebody in this country is free to have fun, and it’s not the foodies.