During the long periods that I am away from home in Connecticut, my mom saves articles in newspapers and magazines that she thinks will be of interest to me. Whenever I return home I find a nice little stack of reading material beside the bed I slept in growing up. As usual, mom got it right despite my long absence.
She left me, among other things, a February 2009 issue of Bon Appétit magazine. There is a huge steak on the cover. At the top is printed, in green: Special Feature/ 50 Easy Ways to Eat Green P. 68 To drive the point home, the Bon Appétit magazine title below has the “o” and that neat little accent above the last “e” also printed in green.
I immediately flipped to page 68.
On the left side of the spread is the title of this Special Feature, nice and big. On the right side is a close up shot of a huge juicy burger and a sneak peak at Tip #5: MAKE A BISON BURGER.
First, lets talk about audience for a second. Bon Appétit magazine boasts a total average circulation of 1,426,992 . The readers are mostly female (73%) and have a median age of 49. The median household income of Bon Apetite readers is $83,563. Who is reading this article? Late middle aged women with a comfortable disposable income.
No matter what my budget, eating local and sustainable is still, unfortunately, inconvenient in America. It requires a lot of commitment to plan your weekend around a Farmers’ Market that is open only 3 hours on a Saturday morning and to accept that while you get your food at that market you’ll have to run another set of errands to buy the non-food items you need.
I am glad that Bon Appétit seems to know that to its readers buying organic and shopping at Farmers’ Markets is now a given. In one sense, I find that pretty encouraging. On the other hand, I think it is likely a little bit out of touch with the shopping habits of a lot of Americans, and I think it skips over some of the deeper issues of sustainable eating.
I am afraid that the tone of this article goes back to a theme I have discussed in the past. That is, I do not think that we are ever going to be able to improve the way we eat on any type of mass or egalitarian scale unless we acknowledge how difficult it is to do so. Changing the way we eat is just not as simple as “50 Tips to Eat Green,” and I’m not convinced that cutesy list-articles that suggest food reform is a matter of buying Bison instead of beef are even a good thing.
I found the tips in this feature were very light hearted. Some were good (“Ask Your Farmer…”) and some were ridiculous: “Buy More Chocolate” (follow a plug for a specific fair trade chocolate company). I suppose it is good that the article is recommending sardines instead of over-fished tuna and recommending that readers choose grass-fed beef from local farmers, but it barely addresses the larger issue that eating meat in general, no matter how “local” or “cage free”, is significantly less “green” than eating a vegetarian diet.
There were several instances where this article seemed a great example of the type of “consumerist explosion” I referred to in the previous post. The article has a very upbeat “try this new thing!” tone, rather than a tone that urges readers to make any food choices that require sacrifice or real change in behavior.
I don’t doubt this is because no one wants to sacrifice or change, and that an article that lectures people about changing their diet is certainly not going to sell magazines. People like nice little lists of “Tips” that are short and cute.
Bon Appetite’s 50 Easy Ways to Eat Green reveals something pretty essential about where our collective head is at in the quest to move towards more sustainable, local, and healthful foods:
Eating better is on our mind. We’re talking about it and writing about it in various media outlets. It is trendy. Buzz words like “Eat Green” are selling magazines. Restaurants that serve local, sustainable fare are getting positive press. But we still want it to be easy. We still want it to be fast. We don’t want to cook, and we don’t want to make any big changes like, say, cutting down on our meat consumption in any significant way. It is pretty ingrained in our American culture that food and eating are associated with quick and easy.
So, either we make sustainable food quicker, cheaper, and easier, or we need to talk a bit more about the fact that maybe we need to reframe the way we think about food and eating. And, that neither that conversation nor that change is going to be easy or quick.
As with all things, I think the answer to the American food crisis is a balance of the two. I’d like to see us start with actually talking about the issues though, and maybe investing in things like educational campaigns about sustainable nutrition and incentives for people living healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.
P. S. In the meantime, Hellman’s Mayonnaise is launching an ad campaign to convince us that eating Hellman’s is synonymous with “eating local.” This is a prime example of the fact that “green” and “local” have become major, hot-sell buzzwords. I am quite sad that I have been unable to find you a You Tube version of a commercial for this campaign. Has anyone else seen these ads? For now, the website will have to suffice: www.eatrealeatlocal.ca/ Note: the website is geared towards Canada, but commercials for "Eat Real. Eat Local." are running in America as well. I saw one. And I scremed. (Really, I did. Ask my dad.)
Is it a bad thing that audiences clearly have positive associations with the words “green” and “local”? Of course not. Does it trouble me that the information most Americans are getting about reforming their diets to make more sustainable food choices comes from a Hellman’s Mayonnaise commercial? Yes.