Mark Bittman visits an industrial tomato farm in California. I like that he swipes at ‘heirloom’ tomatoes. But his admiration for sustainable farming permeates the entire piece.
I’VE long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?
The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.
I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farmin Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start.
Could ethical concerns ultimately drive public acceptance of the new food technology? Cor van der Weele, Professor of Humanistic Philosophy at Wageningen University, is convinced that’s the case, with artificial meat at least. “People will see the moral benefits of cultured meats. Taking stem cells from a pig rather than killing millions of pigs in factories is already a more attractive idea to consumers.” She quotes studies of the viability of growing meat in sunlight-fuelled “bio-reactors” placed in desert areas: the reduction in resources is staggering. “It would require 1% of the land and just 2% of the water that traditional meat production does. And it would involve a 90% reduction in greenhouse gases,” she says.
Eating real meat in 2035 could be as morally questionable as eating foie gras – and about as expensive. As Dr Mark Post says: “A meat-eater with a bicycle is much more environmentally unfriendly than a vegetarian with a Hummer.”
OK, I’ll do it. I’m going to commit to eating only humanely raised pigs, or ban pork when in doubt. I don’t eat a lot of pork, so it should be easy, hopefully. I was just talking about this with an acquaintance over dinner the other night. We were in the Deer Cafe in Vesterbro, Copenhagen and I ordered baked cod with mustard sauce. It was garnished with two slices of thick bacon.
Lars, a shy Swede and nerdy computer programmer, told me that he only eats wild hunted swine (aka wild boar). It was more natural, he said, and better for the conscience.
He explained that Denmark is one of the largest producers of pork in the world, and that factory farming of pigs was a terrible, horrible business that he couldn’t support. He talked about how pigs are highly intelligent, have personalities, and can feel happiness and pain.
I listened intently while munching on thick bacon strips in between swills of some dark ale. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, perhaps even overblown since the EU supposedly is very strict with respect to agriculture and factory farming. Even though this video was shot in the states, and is a horrible nightmare to watch, I fear that the 22 million pigs(!) that are slaughtered each year just in Denmark do not live anything but short, brutal lives. I am so confused at why this happens in 2012. Wikipedia has an entry on intensive pig farming in the U.S., here.