Is That Carrot You're Eating a Neighbor or World Traveler?

Tonight, when you sit down for dinner, consider the following challenge: Look at what's on your plate and ask yourself if you know the geographical origin of the primary ingredients that make up your meal. Forget the salt, pepper and olive oil for a moment.

Where does that salad come from - or the chicken breast, the green beans? Any of it hail from neighboring towns or farms? Jot down your observations and let me know of your discoveries.

I ask you the same question I am continuing to ask myself: Do I know where my food is coming from and how it was grown or raised? The issue of food origin as it relates to sustainability is a hot one, with fossil fuel topping the list of factors to consider. In the latest issue of Time Magazine (which is entirely devoted to food, by the way), reporter Margot Roosevelt (a former reporter at the Washington Post) talks to "self-styled concerned culinary adventurers" who call themselves locavores, who have committed to eating everything within a 100-mile radius of home, wherever that may be.

I had heard of this movement on a local level earlier this year, when a friend sent me a story from the Seattle Weekly about a group taking the local food thing very seriously. But based on Roosevelt's story, it appears locavores are spreading the word.

The concept of eating locally at all times is an interesting contrast to the news that Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, is getting into the business of organics. I learned about this development last month at the "Cooking for Solutions" sustainable seafood and agriculture conference I attended in California and have been chewing on its implications ever since.

Michael Pollan, a journalist and author of the newly released "The Omnivore's Dilemma, " weighed in on the news in an essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. On the one hand, Pollan argues, "the vast expansion of organic farmland it will take to feed Wal-Mart's new appetite is also an unambiguous good for the world's environment, since it will result in substantially less pesticide and chemical fertilizer being applied to the land -- somewhere."

Still, he counters, the equation is complicated by Wal-Mart's sheer enormity and power, which implies lots of deal-making on a both a corporate and political level that has little to do with the small farmer trying to pay the bills and be a steward of the land. It will be interesting, to say the least, to follow the development of this story, and I'll keep you posted.

This is just the beginning, but you'll see more and more of these kinds of stories in coming weeks and months. What are your thoughts, concerns or lingering questions about local versus industrial food? Share in the comments area below, or talk to me at noon today during What's Cooking, my weekly chat.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 6, 2006; 11:55 AM ET Food Politics
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It will be interesting to see how industrial scale organic farming works out. Pollan's description of the industrial but technically organic chicken farm didn't sound pleasant at all.

Posted by: Little Red | June 7, 2006 2:39 PM

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