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September 2008








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Eastern region bloggers

Tim BairdTim Baird
Carrboro, North Carolina

Born and raised in central Maine, my youth was spent mowing the lawn, kicking a soccer ball against the garage doors, and trying to sneak sugar cereal out of the kitchen cupboards after I was put to bed. More about Tim

Warren JohnstonWarren Johnston
South Royalton, Vermont

I am a baby boomer who grew up in a time when the trend in food was convenience and speed. It wasn't the fast-food era, but a post-World War II time when ... More about Warren

Barbara KattmanBarbara Kattman
Holliston, Massachusetts

We live in Holliston, Massachusetts. When we bought our house in Holliston about 27 years ago, Holliston was a rural/residential town of about 13,000 people. More about Barbara

Autumn LongAutumn Long
Wallace, West Virginia

My name is Autumn. I'm 24 years old, and I live in rural north-central West Virginia. I was born and raised in West Virginia, and in 2005 I graduated from ... More about Autumn

April LuginbuhlApril Luginbuhl
Cleveland, Ohio

My personal interests revolve around the environment, both knowing more about it and getting outside and enjoying my surroundings. This led me down an educational path to ... More about April


< Stonewood Bulk Foods | Main | Is eating local accessible? >

Remember Ratatouille?

Posted at 4:42 PM on September 7, 2008 by Timothy Baird (13 Comments)

The recent movie, not the dish. Remember the conversion of the villainous food-critic at the end of the movie when he was transported back to his childhood by the rat's masterfully prepared ratatouille? Anton Ego, the critic, whose full-throated self-importance is artfully rendered by Peter O'Toole's voice, admits in his final review that the role of the critic is easy. As critics we "risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment." He follows by suggesting that we must also be prepared to stand up and defend what we believe to be worthy of merit.

So here I go.

I've been shopping at Whole Foods lately... driving past my Co-op on my way to the big-box store for hippies (and yuppies). I hadn't really been there in months, except to buy charcoal for the grill. And I certainly hadn't scrutinized the selection of local foods. My wife and I went a couples weeks back and I couldn't believe it. Everything in the produce section was labeled. Everything.

Labels clearly distinguished between organic and conventional and the country of origin could be read from across the aisle. For each of the items from NC, the name of the farm was listed and in many cases a picture of the farm family was posted. We recognized several of the faces from our farmers' market.

For the record, the number of local products and the level of information on these products greatly exceeds what I can get at my local co-op - Weaver Street Market.

Now, I am sure that the issues that my co-op faces in bringing the local to locals are much different and perhaps greater than the issues that Whole Foods faces, but I want to shake things up a bit. It's always popular to criticize the corporation and laud the efforts of the little guy - but this time I want to give the big-guys a high five.

Comments (13)

See you at Wal-Mart.

Posted by Todd | September 7, 2008 11:01 PM

Tim, At least you have something to say. Most of the bloggers seem to be too busy to post lately. The start of school, harvesting preserving and getting back to the grind,I mean
the routine after summer vacation etc. When I was younger I felt that things were often very black and white. I was very incensed when the establishment in the form of big advertizing took something like a song or any of the things that made the summer of Love seem so special to those of us in the current hipper than the last generation crowd and bastardized it for the purposes of hawking their wares. These days I think the route to the general publics awareness is not very often the high road that we might imagin. Its a battle to sort the truth out from the BS most of the time. While progress made by the bigger corperations is a fickle and fadish thing, I like to think that the general flow is in a desireable direction. One thing I have noticed is that the folks doing the marketing are very good many times at keeping their eyes on the probable trends of public opinion. Also it often seems to me that many products that have a flaw of some kind seem to be marketed by saying that this is their best quality. It also seems that if you have along way to go just starting the journey seems like a big acomplishment. At any rate I don't necessarily expect to see you at Walmart. And even if I did I think most of us are on some kind of twelve step program on our way to enlightenment.


Posted by Mike Lawrence | September 8, 2008 1:04 AM

I don't know, Tim. This leaves me feeling conflicted. I agree that we should applaud that WF is making this effort -- I'll refrain from my usual cynical comments about corporate greed still being the driving factor and try to be content that this is the end result. But...

To me one of the most beautiful things about the local food movement is that it supports a more pluralistic sense of food supply and demand, and in its best and most functional form makes good quality food accessible to everyone, not just the moneyed few who don't mind paying $6 for a 4-oz bag of grits labeled "polenta." We still have a ways to go there, not just at WF but at the local co-op as well.

Obama is going to fix this, right?

Posted by Amy | September 8, 2008 10:19 AM

Come on, Todd. That's the best you've got?

Posted by Timothy Baird | September 8, 2008 10:34 AM

Hi Tim,

I don't think it's about small vs. big, or farmers vs. corporate greedheads, or even capitalists exploiting the surplus value of labor. It is about an underlying change in attitude at the mainstream level. Raley's labels sources on-line and in their stores. Safeway and WalMart have in house organic brands. Sunset magazine has always been about gardening and eating, but now includes raising chickens and goats as part of back yard gardening. Their restaurant reviews include the local farms that produce the ingredients as a matter of course. In a recent USA Weekend article in our local paper, buying local didn't show up as an ecological or moral issue. It was the second item in a list of how to save money, since transportation costs are driving up the price of food.

These aren't small elitist groups amusing themselves. These are regular people shopping in regular businesses and reading regular magazines and newspapers. The businesses and periodicals are meeting a demand because that's what businesses who want to make money and stay in business do.

Those farmers with their photos in WF are selling their produce. Out here in the West, a big local issue is to get the land into production with local markets to buy it so the water doesn't all get siphoned off to SF or LA, never to be seen again.

This didn't happen overnight, but don't minimize what's going on. You just changed the world.


Posted by Kathy | September 8, 2008 2:01 PM

Hi Tim,

The entrance of Whole Foods and other large grocery chains into the local foods market should produce a strong market force to encourage local and sustainable food production. As Michael Pollan pointed out in "The Omnivore's Dilemma", WF's demand for organic produce has substantially increased the proportion of acres of land being farmed without chemicals. Wal Mart has since added to this effect. Regardless of what we think of their personnel policies, these big box stores can have a strong, positive effect when they choose to move in the right direction simply because of their massive scale. I'd like to support what's right about these stores while condemning what's wrong with them.

Thanks for your provocative essay. Phil

Posted by Phil Bardsley | September 9, 2008 10:29 AM

High Five, Timmy!

Posted by meg | September 9, 2008 12:01 PM

Hi Mike,

I really appreciate your comments here. It wasn't so long ago that I viewed the world in strictly black and white. But I'm not sure this is the answer.

I think it's important to keep in mind that corporations, like full-length mirrors, reflect so many of our imperfections. And for whatever reason we tend to focus on these.

Sometimes wouldn't it be nice to focus on our striking features as well.


Posted by Tim Baird | September 13, 2008 9:25 PM


I've been in touch with the Obama people and they're on it - adding backyard gardens to the platform.

Pluralism, indeed. This is what we need. Thanks for using this word. We need to recognize that fetish-izing the local may preclude us from seeing solutions at larger scales. (I'm getting into academic speak now.) Anyway - my Co-Op isn't always right and Whole Foods isn't always wrong. In the end, both groups need to work harder to get healthy food raised in environmentally safe conditions to more people. And we are all part of that solution.

Now if we could just get the elephants and the donkeys on board with this.

Food '08!


Posted by Tim Baird | September 13, 2008 9:33 PM

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for writing. You raise an important caveat here which is that in the end this is about people making a living. This will always come first... but we should be thankful that the message is catching on nonetheless.

I think it's great that Wal-Mart is selling organics - provided they don't strong arm the regulators to weaken the standards for organic labeling. This means that more and more people are saying "I want to buy something that is better for the planet and better for my own health" (although in the case of health the science is still inconclusive as far as I know). If McDonald's starring selling organics it would mean that fewer havoc wreaking pesticides and inorganic fertilizers would be washed into our water-systems.

Are there some problems with Wal-Mart? (Intense laughter.... brushing back the tears)

In the end, I'm a pragmatist. How can we take what we've got and make it better... even a little bit.


Posted by Tim Baird | September 13, 2008 9:45 PM

Hi Phil,

My responses to Kathy and Mike are echoes of your thoughtful comment here.

I absolutely agree.


Posted by Tim Baird | September 13, 2008 9:47 PM




Posted by Tim Baird | September 13, 2008 9:48 PM

Hey Tim, I believe the comment below was mis-posted on one of my entries...it clearly relates to this topic. Hope all's well for you,

hope Charlotte NC gets a Whole Foods soon! I discovered Whole Foods in Charleston SC, 2007, then fouond out there is one in Chapel Hill, also in Winston-Salem.

Charlotte has EarthFare (high end, pricey), Trader Joe's (a great store for nuts and berries, esp. dried-prices very good), and Home Economist. Whole Foods has more variety and more local foods, as you said.

Thank you for reading, pls comment..

Posted by melissa

Posted by Autumn Long | September 15, 2008 10:02 AM