Greg Cox leads the Farmers' Market from the Co-op into the sun in Depot Park last May. For more pictures of the Farmers' Market move go here.We spring out of the double naughts with a vengeance, some of us, calling it “an era best forgotten,” as Paul Krugman did. He also called 2009 “a year of zero gains.” Frank Rich marveled that we the people could have been so easily “bamboozled” by so many shallow, crooked, greedy powers-that-be over the last decade that came in with Enron and went out with housing foreclosures.
I like that word, bamboozled. It’s the only way to explain how we felt as the ‘big lies’ came at us faster and faster. Fools told them and the fool media reported them without question.
We were stymied, left juddering in place with frustration by the shoddiness of the era.
Bamboozle. Such a comic word. Reminds us of ‘shyster’ and ‘country bumpkin’. But we were not country bumpkins, were we, when we paid the banks to get back on their feet, those shysters, and they continued to pay out billions to their glassy-shod CEOs? We were just people, standing there sputtering, “But... but... but...!”
“Fool me once,” as the fool said!
And on the food front? Oh my goodness! E-coli in schoolchildren’s meat. Salmonella in the widely disparate crops of peanuts and spinach. The death of coral in the Caribbean because of the green-paving of the country’s mid-section and the resultant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides seeping from field to river to sea.
Meat cattle, raised in bliss for mere months on grass in fields and then sent to huge concentrated animal feeding operations to wade in their own manure and feed on enormous amounts of antibiotic- and hormone-infused grains.
Dairy cows, who love to amble under the sun snatching green-grass for their feed, made to stand on cement floors all day, under roofs, surrounded by green fields, eating genetically modified grain.
Pigs, who love to forage in the forest and roll in the resultant dust, raised all their lives indoors in pig-squeezing grate-crates.
Chickens de-beaked for crowded living instead of scratching in dirt and grass for their bugs and worms. Lagoons of effluent.
Fallen cows prodded, kicked and dragged to the abattoir. Our food animals treated as machines instead of animals sharing the same biological life we super-special humans experience.
And ignorance? I can think of no better example than Garrison Keillor becoming euphoric about the glorious healthiness of ... Cheerios. Why does he do this? Well, he needs a sponsor, for one thing, and I suppose Cheerios is better than Fluff. So he hides his head in the sand.
But hiding one’s head in the sand does give one’s neighbor a broad rear canvas on which to launch any of a myriad of unsavory actions almost guaranteed to be unwelcome. Among those with proboscis most sandy, backsides most prominent, are, for instance, nutritionists who still recommend You-Know-It-Ain’t-Butter and its common tub-companions.
This is no longer a butter substitute, since anyone growing up in the last twenty or thirty years has forgotten, or never knew, that it was supposed to be, or that butter was ever considered to be a food. Tub spread is that kind of chemical sludge that a humongous not-a-food-company made a place for on our table. It is approximating and substituting for real stuff that people have forgotten ever existed. Why do we stand for it? Hmmph! Our noses are more than a little sandy as well.
The question is why don’t nutritionists, or even we, the common people, have enough basic interest in their work (or we in our health) to keep up with those scholars and writers who are checking the backstory of our declining health and the catastrophic fall of our food system? Have we even heard of Marion Nestle? How about Susan Allport? Gary Taubes? Surely we’ve read Michael Pollan?
***And here is where the story of the decade takes a giant leap towards the light. In 2006, Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the backstory to our food plight, a most fascinating and very generous book. It brought the tale of our ravaged food system within reach of everyone. It was a beginning.
And here in Vermont, here in Rutland and in the county, we had Greg Cox and the Rutland County/Vermont Farmers’ Market, one of the most splendiferous in the state; it possibly would not be too much of an overstatement to call it world-class. Yes, we’ve had it for thirty years or more, but during this past decade it came into its majority. It became glorious.
Around Greg, the philosopher/farmer and kingpin, gathered a group of people who reasoned that on the national front we could only do what we could do and cross our fingers, but as for what happens here in Rutland County and in Vermont – well, we could make a great deal happen to improve our quality of life and we began to do that. We began to act locally even while thinking globally.
Now, for the third year, as well as the twice-a-week summer market in Depot Park, we have the Winter Farmers’ Market, accessed through the Co-op on Wales Street. We have been thrilled by that – by the festive Medieval atmosphere, by the year-around availability of fresh local vegetables, meats, cheeses and eggs, and by the web of friendships and loyalty growing up between vendor and customer. Here is food we can trust, that is delicious and fresh and healthy. Here is food that we grew up with, if we are old enough, and that we have been losing ever since.
In this last half decade we have given the Co-op new life, as we recognized that it is a necessary and potentially glorious link in that safe and, as much as possible, local food chain. We have supported RAFFL in its efforts to create a food hub and find land on which to create a learning venue for new farmers. We have participated in the marketing study that showed the Farmers’ Market and the Co-op as key in bringing national status to Rutland as the hub of farm and city. As well, we have supported the Paramount, the Chaffee and Brick Box and numerous other galleries to support our local artists and our hunger for the creative. The Creative Economy has done wonders for Rutland, as has an energetic and plain-speaking new government. Mr. Mayor Louras? Chris and Judy shop at the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and the Co-op in between, and not just because it is a festival – they shop there Very Seriously indeed.
Mayor Louras with radishes ready for the first radish toss to open the summer Farmers' Market
So we have not allowed a perfectly awful decade to go to waste, and we have been lucky in having the raw materials to work with to make it glorious in our own way. When Michael Pollan wrote in In Defense of Food, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” he was not taking a vegetarian stance, but working on the assumption that most people in the world, in this country, do not have access to good grass-fed or pastured meat, but must rely on grocery store meat, unlocal meat, meat that has come through the big CAFOs and is therefore unsustainable to our health and our environment. CAFO meat does not only come from grocery stories, it comes from your favorite little butcher shop where the guys are so nice and such good cutters. That’s what it comes down to.
This is also why Susan Allport suggests using an arcane mixture of canola oil and flaxseed to provide Omega-3s. Omega-3s are found most richly and providentially in animal fats, but animal fats from CAFOS are full of very bad things. The author of The Queen of Fats assumes most people do not have access to good animal fat. And she is right.
But WE do. Locally, within forty miles of Rutland, we have access to half a dozen sustainable meat operations. Actually, make that a dozen. And we should buy that meat unless we are already vegetarians, because if we don’t buy it it won’t be there. The farmers will go out of business. It’s that simple. So, lucky us. We should take advantage of that fact.
We can’t become complacent – we still have much to do. We need to support RAFFL – volunteer time or donate money – in putting their Food Hub in place and to find and buy land for the incubator farm.
Talk to your favorite meat cutters and restaurants and entreat them to use, and offer, more local food. There is a tremendous reluctance to do so on their part, usually attributed to their customers not insisting on local food at the cost of a few pennies or dollars more. Let them know that you DO want it.
Get out and enjoy – and buy your food from – the Farmers’ Market (Saturdays 10-2), and the Co-op. Attend the Paramount and the Friday night Art Hops. Laugh a lot. Support the train. Dance. Volunteer. Help out! Do what you CAN do to make this next decade a success, and to assure yourself that in 2020 you don’t look back and say, “I feel so... USED... so... Bamboozled!”
To heck with that! Act Local! Beet the System!