Fueled by the books of Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, among others, and by the recent release of films such as Food, Inc. and Food Fight, a lot of people are talking about food policy in the United States.
With so many people suffering from diabetes, Americans have paid a high price for the convenience of fast food. When the First Lady digs up part of the White House lawn to plant a garden, you know we're either at war or there's a problem with what American's are eating.
Knowing that consumers want a reliable, healthy food supply, corporations use phrases like "Organic," "Farm Fresh," "Healthy Choice" and "100% Natural" as marketing tools to keep processed foods in our pantries.
Access to fresh, affordable produce is essential to good health. The big question is how to do that?
Those of us who live in communities with farmers' markets are lucky. Where we live in Southern California, we have two great farmers' markets: the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and the Sunday Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market.
In those markets the full bounty of summer is apparent on the farmers' heavily laden tables.
Besides being a source of good food products, farmers' markets are good for one's mood. No matter what modern-living crisis we're dealing with, an unhurried walk around the market is calming and reviving.
Sampling the stone fruit and citrus from Arnett Farms, eating a plate of raw clams at Carlsbad Aquafarms, talking with John, the co-owner of Sweredoski Farms, and hearing his stories about being a Marine before he became a farmer, or literally stopping and smelling the roses at Bernie and Linda's Kendall Garden Roses stand. There is something very satisfying about knowing where your food came from and meeting the farmers who brought it to market.
Recently I interviewed master chef Albert Roux, famous for having revolutionized French cooking in England. In March he opened a restaurant outside of Houston, Texas. Since he trained Marco Pierre White and Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsey, Chef Roux is an experienced cook who has seen it all.
What animated him the most during the interview was his joy at having access to American food products. He delighted in the high quality of Alaskan salmon, Maine scallops, and "happy," free range chickens. And what moved him the most was the dedication of the farmers who sold their wares at the local farmers' markets.
Even though, as he said, they knew they would never make a fortune from their farms, these farmers worked hard so that they could proudly deliver to the market the best produce they could.
Chef Roux called them "the army of believers".
But there aren't enough farmers' markets to solve the problems created by America's reliance on processed food.
If you're lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood, that's great. Even if you don't know how to cook it's easy enough to walk over to a farmer's table and buy pesticide-free fruit and vegetables so you can eat a fresh peach or make a salad.
But even if you don't have a farmers' market close to where you live, it's important to understand that learning to cook is important for your health. Supermarket chains and neighborhood mom and pop stores might not have the best produce, but some produce is better than none.
The problem is many people have bought into the idea that prepared and convenience foods are just easier to deal with and take less time to prepare. But as Tom Laskawy recently pointed out, it's only a little more time-consuming to cook a meal than it is to microwave one.
Hopefully President Obama and the Democratic majority will prevail in their efforts to reform the health care system, but in the meantime each of us can help the cause by learning how to shop and cook. We'll all save money (which is a good thing), have better tasting food, and stay healthier longer.
David Latt from Men Who Like to Cook