Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks

I hesitate to criticize, because I want them to succeed, but Derrick's report on Heritage Foods chez Chez Panisse got me thinking again. I have already mentioned the $15/lb. cherries, which, I'm sure Derrick will agree, were not terribly good this year. They sell some other things at 4x the cost of buying direct from the producer. By comparison, their meat prices are fair.

What really bothers me is the wisdom of overnighting cherries, much less hog quarters across the country. How is this in any way sustainable? There was an interesting article in Food Policy this spring that -- crudely -- estimated the environmental benefits of buying local at twice those of buying organic. And this was for the UK, so they're talking about diesel, not jet fuel. I've always found it a bit, shall we say, inconsistent, that C.P. flies in all that produce from the Chinos, who won't even answer their phone because they want you to buy local. And Rancho Santa Fe is a lot closer than the Berkshires.

And then there's the frozen issue. Let's just say that Chez Panisse's ability to source fresh grassfed beef was the prerequisite to them abandoning cornfed altogether. (One of the good things about Heritage is that they let you time your order so that it arrives fresh).

I understand that the coat has many colors, which sometimes clash, and that preserving these heritage breeds is particularly important. But let's stop pretending that local, organic, and sustainable are all the same and we can live happily ever after. Or at least the rich can.

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