But sooner or later, we'll need to better subsidize our small, sustainable farms. "For small-scale farmers to earn a living, they have to charge a lot for their food," says Kurlansky. "That's how all this bad food happened."
"We have to figure out how to support small farmers," agrees Kenner. "And ultimately, we really need to figure out how to support local so we can create communities that we want."
Michelle Obama's White House garden is a nice gesture. And the revived popularity of farmer's markets, of buying and eating local, is a healthy sign. Kristi Ceccarossi, co-founder of Boston Localvores, says the Hub, in particular, is "in a really amazing position. There's a farmer's market almost every day of the week somewhere in or around the city." Add in several community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and even a community-supported fishery, such as the new Cape Ann Fresh Catch, and it's clear that we're better off than most. "The challenge," she concedes, remains "reaching people outside the Cambridge/Whole Foods audience."
Nonetheless, the explosive popularity of Whole Foods — and the fact that organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food industry — is a positive step. Even if these days the word "organic" has become all but meaningless, with dozens of previously independent producers now bought up by conglomerates like Kraft and ConAgra.
Then again, maybe that marriage between corporate lucre and high ideals is just the solution we need to fix things. "Organic doesn't necessarily mean you're getting healthy food to eat," says Kenner. "As Michael Pollan said, is an organic Twinkie better for you? But then, on one level, it absolutely is. We're not poisoning the land."
There's no going back to the happy, wholesome harvests that get the mouth watering in The Food of a Younger Land. Corporations and big-time agribusiness are here to stay. But they can feed us better, in a healthier and more sustainable way. We, as voters and consumers, are the ones empowered to make sure that they do.
In the meantime, it's clear that like "the financial crisis, this system can't continue," says Kenner. "At some point, it comes due. But we're going to hopefully find alternatives really quickly. I think there's a real hunger for this."
Mike Miliard can be reached at email@example.com.