EDIT: Attention Valleywag shoppers, inexplicably directed to this four year old post that mentions Julie Powell in passing. More recent and salient J/J thoughts on the vagaries of hyping the film, Child on her #1 fan (better than Kathy Bates, but still), the cumulative effect of the J/J hype, as well as more sustained thoughts on the original J/J book here, and on My Life in France, the other ingredient in Ephron's stew. (Fun fact for bloggers: if you refer to My Life in France by its initials, you will get lots of hits from onanists who cannot type.)
It is both organic and sustainable. The fond hope expressed elsewhere that the Times was burying all of its wackest DI/DO stuff in late August when its readership would be fighting over limes in the Hamptons' finest retail establishments has turned out to be a snare and a delusion. Bruni aside, I stopped counting at four kinds of stupid:
--Icelanders want you to eat their food. Fine. But they want you to buy it at Whole Foods. In America. And they want you to know it is, you know, "sustainable."
Starting with 28 stores in the mid-Atlantic states and rolling into the New York area by the end of the year, Whole Foods will be selling a variety of food under the "Sustainable Iceland" logo. The Whole Foods connection was a bit of clever Icelandic strategy. To make any money in the United States market, Iceland officials figured they would have to capture a slice of the natural products category, the fastest growing segment of the food business. And that meant courting the biggest player, Whole Foods. The company, which grew by 23 percent in 2004, sells about $4 billion worth of groceries a year. The relationship began seven years ago, when Whole Foods agreed to sell Icelandic lamb as a fresh, seasonal product. The meat was available in only a handful of stores at first, but this month will arrive in more than 140. And for the first time, the product line will expand to include cheese, beer, butter and possibly chocolate. The Icelanders eventually plan to add trackable cod to the list.* Each fillet will be numbered, so shoppers can track the fish back to the boat that caught it."The culture of Iceland has something to do with why we considered these products in the first place," said Neal Weinberg, who coordinates specialty food for Whole Foods in the mid-Atlantic states. "The quality of the products is what sold us."
Right about now, you are looking for the coupon, because it sure seems like you are reading a circular, not America's paper of record. And, oh yeah, "sustainable" is essentially meaningless:
There are a few holes in the plan. For example, part of a sustainable ethos involves burning as little fuel as possible in delivering food from the farm to the table. It's a concept called food miles. The fewer miles food travels, the more sustainable it is. Iceland is about a five-hour flight from New York.
If the people who wrote the food section had a look at the front page, they would see that two of the most venerable airlines in the USA are on the brink of declaring bankruptcy, in part because jet fuel costs so much nowadays. Iceland is in the middle of the ocean. Icelandic produce, as seen at your Stateside grocer, is about as sustainable as a terrine of passenger pigeons, auks, and cocaine.
--Whole Food's struggle against the English language, and its system of sounds that have referents that most folks agree usually correspond to recognizable things and ideas continues, and they have enlisted the Times in this battle against meaning. "Organic," when it comes to milk, does not mean exactly what Whole Foods would like it to:
JOHN MACKEY, chairman of Whole Foods Market, with the buying power of his 173 stores across the country behind him, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he wants the Department of Agriculture to strengthen its standards for organic milk. "I'm worried that it is getting bogged down in some kind of political process," said Mr. Mackey, who wields great power in the organic food industry. For at least four years, the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the department's National Organic Program, has sought a regulation to make the standards more rigorous so that milk labeled organic comes from cows that spend a certain amount of time grazing in pastures. Currently dairy farms that keep cows confined most or all of the time can legally claim their milk is organic if they use organic feed and do not use antibiotics or growth hormones.
It takes a lot for me to take up the cudgels for big ag, even organic big ag, but I have enjoyed inhabiting a discursive milieu where the meaning of words is not subject to lobbying by powerful grocery chains. I am far from an expert on defining "organic" or not once we get past the synthesis of urea, but it seems clear here that Whole Foods is working to make the legal definition of "organic" correspond to its brand. Its brand seems to involve making rich people feel good about what they eat. These consumers are often, and willingly, unaware about where their food comes from, and the lives these animals enjoy. So, if I have this right, Whole Foods wants the standard to change so that their customers' misapprehensions will become true?
"We think the average customer believes organic dairy cows are grazing full time," Mr. Mackey said, "and we would like organic standards to be more rigorous so the perception meets the reality." Mr. Mackey first discussed his company's position in an interview with Jim Slama in Conscious Choice, a monthly magazine.
Fuck it, this does not go far enough. I insist that milk labeled organic be milked by hand by buxom maidens wearing red gingham blouses. You can think that paying a few dollars more for your Bell and Evans chicken means that bird got a blowjob from Tara Reid just prior to being slaughtered, but that does not make it so. The end result might well mean more pasture for cows, which I am confident they will appreciate, but it skeeves me that it is being done so the customer can be right.
--Apple's back in Sydney, and there are still nice places to eat. Next week's exclusive--bacon still tastes good. Would Betsey object if the Times shifted Johnny over to the sex tourism beat for his twilight years? He seems to be tired of writing about food, as his last several pieces have read like expense reports with adjectives.
--Finally, while Julie Powell is the Orville and the Wilbur of food bloggers, she needs to stop huffing dust from the crypt of Erma Bombeck.
*Personally, this Cod don't want nobody's name on his behind.