Local food and Belgian chocolate

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan stops to buy a few ingredients to supplement the food from Polyface Farm for his local meal. He makes an effort to buy local ingredients to preserve the meal’s “bar code virginity,” at least until he addresses dessert:

I also needed some chocolate for the dessert I had in mind. Fortunately the state of Virginia produces no chocolate to speak of, so I was free to go for the good Belgian stuff, panglessly. In fact, even the most fervent eat-local types say it’s okay for a “foodshed” (a term for a regional food chain, meant to liken it to a watershed) to trade for goods it can’t produce locally — coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate — a practice that predates the globalization of our food chain by a few thousand years. (Whew . . .) (263)

There’s a lot that I don’t understand about this paragraph. First is the underlying premise that buying local is all-or-nothing. Pollan can’t get local chocolate, so it’s okay for him to get the chocolate that was produced in Belgium. There’s no need to consider chocolate that was produced closer to Virginia. (Of course, any chocolate is going to be made from ingredients grown in much warmer climates, but processing these ingredients in Belgium increases fossil fuel use and decreases transparency for the American eater.)

Then, there’s a failure to acknowledge that chocolate is a luxury. Nobody really needs chocolate, so if local is better and chocolate can’t be local, isn’t it better to make a dessert that can be made from local ingredients? I don’t mean to say that Pollan shouldn’t buy the chocolate but that perhaps it shouldn’t be so “pangless” and that a more coherent set of local values would at least acknowledge that some compromise is made in the purchase of chocolate.

What’s most baffling to me, though, is Pollan seems to have a certain contempt for his local values. Pollan considers it fortunate that there is no local chocolate, because that means he’s free to buy the “good Belgian stuff.” His values seem to serve primarily as a restriction (albeit one that can be skirted). I realize the paragraph may be somewhat tongue in cheek, but I can’t think of any other values that would receive this kind of treatment from a believer. For example, many environmentalists drive gasoline-powered cars, but what environmentalist would ever say anything like, “Fortunately, there’s no public transportation in this city, so I’m free to drive my car guiltlessly”? Most environmentalists would advocate for an option that was more consistent with their values, but Pollan appreciates not having the values-based choice.

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1 Comment »

  1. Molly said

    The way I read it, it isn’t tongue in cheek at all. I think he’s completely serious.

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