After writing the first installment, I realized a Part 2 was necessary.
Wine is an interesting case study. Water, earth, and sun all contribute to the grape and the characteristics that will ultimately take effect in the final product. Wine enthusiasts know, for example, the various growing seasons of the Russian River Valley over the past 10 years and how that impacted the quality of the vintage each year. Too much rain did this to the grape, or a late Indian summer did that to the wine. So it seems that whole game of vintages which fuels the industry and collectors alike is dependent on unpredictable climate changes. Just as long as they aren’t destroyed completely!
So, then, should farmers and consumers be hoping for regular and predictable growing seasons? If I am a restaurant with a menu item that requires fresh, local blueberries, then the answer is yes. It would be bad for business if my customers came to love and expect my blueberry cobbler, and then I couldn’t give it to them. I need a steady supply, or I need to let my customers know that the cobbler is only seasonal. And restaurants that use local, farm ingredients often do inform their diners. Or they work out some kind of hybrid solution in which they offer local when they can but at the same time they are not tied to it when the supply isn’t there.
What about a big chain like Olive Garden or Red Lobster? They have grown to a national and even international level by delivering a consistent product time and time again. I can get a blueberry cobbler at Bob Evans in Ohio, for example, and it’s going to taste the same in North Carolina. They have built brand loyalty by being consistent. So they need a steady stream of blueberries. Even more demanding, they need a lot of blueberries because they are feeding a nation! How do they do it? They find suppliers that can meet their demands. And how do these supplies meet those demands? How can a blueberry grower promise a consistent quality at a high volume? Aren’t they susceptible to same climate volatility as any other farmer?
Unfortunately, the answer is science. Food scientists have made big break-throughs by tinkering with both genetics and with chemicals. They now know how to genetically modified plants to make them resilient to factors of nature like droughts. They can make them genetically toxic to bugs and other critters – built-in insecticides! They continue to tinkering to get higher and higher yields. That’s internally. Externally, they have made big advancements in fertilizers, insecticides, and other chemicals. They have brilliantly taken the risk out of climate and other farming uncertainties. Go science!
At another time, we will explore the dangers of genetically modified foods and of chemicals sprayed onto our food. I think it’s safe to say that all this science is not good. The real pisser is we don’t have the longevity or history to really know the consequences of these scientific discoveries. On the surface, what could be the harm of using our intelligence and modern technology to have higher food yields of consistent quality? Developing countries like Africa could certainly use this kind of science to add stability to their geopolitical landscapes. A steady crop would do wonders for the rampant scarcity and violence and fear and poverty in these areas.
What about wine? What if we were actively homogenizing all the grapes of the world so that they were more resilient and produced a higher yield? Obviously, the world of wine would be very boring to say the least. And that is the risk in all of our food systems. If we try to use science to get the best of the best out of our food, we are eliminating variety. No more heirloom grains or tomatoes. We will all be eating the same tasteless, bland, mass-produced corn, for instance. And what if a strange disease or fungus comes along that’s particularly keen on obliterating this one kind of homogenized crop?
So I end the same way I ended Part 1. Get out there and eat local, seasonal farm produce. It’s the best way to take advantage of what’s fresh now. When are peaches or apples or whatever ever going to taste this good again? And here is a secret for all of you lazy chefs out there. You don’t have to do much to make fresh ingredients taste really good. No fancy preparations, just incredible flavors!