Catching up with the August 1 issue of The N.Y. Times Book Review, I happened upon a front-page review of Four Fish–The Future of the Last Wild Food, by Paul Greenberg. The points in the book (as reviewed by Sam Sifton) paint a grim picture of the present and future of fishing, for wild-caught and farmed fish both. The wild-caught are increasingly scarce, and increasingly smaller. Some farming shows promise, but salmon farming is always bad. Okay, so that’s a very rough and quick recap.
I am guilty of some holier-than-thou pride in my attitude toward the food I buy for our household. I buy wild-caught fish and (and least sometimes) cage-free, organic chicken. I shop–religiously is the correct adjective–at a large farmers’ market every Saturday morning for produce. Depending on the time of year, I find utterly amazing heirloom tomatoes, peaches to make me drool, or beautiful fresh lima beans. I also see (again, depending on season) items I have never seen in a grocery story, like baby garlic, purslane, and zucchini flowers.
I, my husband, and my daughter regularly fill our bellies with excellent food, and most days I feel pretty darn virtuous about our superiority in this area. Until, that is, a review in NYTBR shakes my sense of entitlement. And it’s not the first time this year my smug sense of food-superiority has been shaken.
This past spring, I read this year’s Hugo-winning The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. If you haven’t gotten to it yet, here’s a a quick and rough recap: In the future, giant agribusinesses unleash bioplagues upon the world, virtually destroying the world’s wild and cultivated food sources. Giant Agribusiness then shows up at the dock with boatloads of their own plague-proof produce, which they are kindly willing to sell you. (There’s a lot more to the book; read it, because it is tremendously good.)
The book reminded me that my abundance of choice and access to really excellent food is something to feel pretty humble about. Dedicated small farmers grow and bring this to us. They are championed by the larger community that supports the market, and the desire is fueled by all of the elite chefs, like Alice Waters, who have devoted their lives to living an ideal of cooking from freshly prepared, local ingredients. Looking at a dystopic future, whether non-fictional or fictional, reminds me that the abundance of which I partake is an historical anomaly, and even at present is confined to a privileged minority. It really is not under my control at all.
I need to remember that with every bite I take.