Lori Anderson: The great food debate demands local response

THE politics of food is a complicated matter, that can leave one's head spinning like the blades of a Magimix blender.

Oh, to which party should one belong? If we were to view our current position through the prism of the 1930s when two great ideologies clashed on how best to elevate man (while burying his neighbour) then who, pray tell, would be the communists and who the fascists? Striding out in leather jackboots, and organic, fair-trade cotton great coats we have rawists, vegans and fruitarians and anyone else who excludes food groups like they are "untermensch". While on the other side of the great meat divide are our omnivorous communists whose food ideology embraces everything from veal to pot noodles.

Scarcely a week goes by without a new food manifesto appearing. Last week we had Jonathan Safran Foer, the American novelist, slip away from his Brooklyn characters to explore mass meat farming in a new non-fiction book in which he argued we should embrace ethical eating and forever eject any kind of meat from our dinner plates. Animals should be considered our equals – not our Sunday roast.

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The recent release of Food Inc, a feature length documentary, aims to instil in carnivores what Jaws did to enthusiastic ocean bathers. Cue scenes of Amityville Horror at the slaughterhouse and chicken coop, which will send viewers scuttling towards the salad bar. But if one is looking for balance then I would suggest placing an order now for Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. His seven rules are worth quoting:

1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognise as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, 'What are those things doing there?'" Pollan says.

2. Don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ones you can't pronounce.

3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.

4. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions – honey – but as a rule, things like Twinkies (cream-filled sponge cakes] that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.

5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"

6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.

7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the US, 20 per cent of food is eaten in the car.

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So which party would I belong too? If you were to take a peek into my larder you would find a shelf groaning with spelt bread, whole grains, nut butters and coconut oil. Noticeably absent are eggs, cheese, fish and cows milk, but wait a minute before you peg me as an etiolated Birkenstock trotting vegan, have a look at the fridge shelf stacked with chicken and steak. I have my fork in veganism and my knife in steak tartare. I try to eat seasonally locally produced organic vegetables and meat, when cost permits. I am adamant about staying clear of processed Frankenfoods.

I am not a religious person, but eating well has a spiritual element for me. I believe we should all be eating the simple unadulterated foods our bodies require to operate at their maximum potential, and, yes, that includes meat. Mark Beaumont, a former vegetarian who recently cycled the American continent, and climbed its two highest peaks, said he could not have achieved his goal without meat.

For me, eating healthily also makes me feel I am being respectful to my body and there is an element of self pampering too. I despise beauty salon treatments and would rather splurge my money on a bag of almond flour and whip up a batch of pecan butter drizzled pancakes than suffer the boredom of a facial.

Yet eating locally and seasonally is not as easy as it may sound. Nor is it a hippy affectation, but a healthy and environmentally friendly means of supporting your local farmer and agricultural system. Like many people, for me the most convenient place to shop is one of the big four supermarkets, Asda, Sainsbury, Tesco or Morrison.

Unfortunately, I have grave concerns about the ethics of these monsters and their effect on local farmers. Take milk, for example; according to NFU Scotland, our farmers are being paid less for a litre than it costs to produce, or 18p per litre against an average cost of 19p to produce. Miraculously, the same supermarkets can conjure a 10p profit for that same litre.

The ingredients for a traditional Sunday lunch may have travelled up to 24,000 miles before landing on our plates if purchased at a supermarket, compared with just 376 miles if we visit the farmers' market. One positive point is that there are now 100 farmers' markets in Scotland, where a decade ago there were none. One negative point is that eating healthily and organically is not cheap. A battery-farmed chicken can cost as little as 3 at Morrisons, while its organic free-range cousin is 8. However, the price of an organic chicken which has run free somewhere in the vicinity of Glasgow could cost as much as 15. A price, regardless of the sacrifices required, I feel increasingly compelled to pay.

For the simple fact is I want to know the provenance of my food, I want to rekindle the connection to the land, which has long since blown out. The economic argument can run the other way. My money could have greater effect if spent on a 15 organic chicken than if I had purchased five from the supermarket. The Green Party calculates 90p of every 1 spent in a supermarket leaves the area, while every 1 spent in a local shop doubles its value to the local economy. Surely, it's time to embrace our cultural heritage, and shop from Scotland's larder?