In Food at Least, Progressives Winning Out
April 8, 2017
And maybe that’s the most profound change of all…
Consider granola: The word used to be a derogatory term. Now it’s a supermarket category worth nearly $2 billion a year. Kombucha was something your art teacher might have made in her basement. The company GT’s Kombucha brews more than a million bottles annually and sells many of them at Walmart and Safeway. And almond milk? You can add it to your drink at 15,000 Starbucks locations for 60 cents.
Just as yoga and meditation have gone mainstream (and let’s not get started on designer Birkenstocks), so have ideas and products surrounding health, wellness and eating that play like a flashback to the early 1970s.
Co-op staples of that time — the miso, tahini, dates, seeds, turmeric and ginger that were absorbed from other cultures and populated the Moosewood restaurant cookbooks — now make appearances at some of the most innovative restaurants in the country, where menus are built around vegetables and heritage grains. Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise; and kale, the bacon of the clean-eating moment, is now routinely heaped on salad plates across the land.
The hippies may not have won the election, but they are winning the plate. (Or rather, the bowl.)
“The counterculture is always ahead of what’s happening in mainstream culture,” said Peter Meehan, the editorial director of Lucky Peach magazine. “It’s as true in any creative field as it is in food.”
He also cited recent scientific findings on the microbiome and the notion that health may be affected by bacteria and other microbes living in your intestinal tract, which are in turn influenced by what you eat. “People are recognizing that this important biodiversity inside of us has been diminished and are seeking strategies to restore it for immune function, digestion, mental health and everything else,” he said. “So people are seeking out bacteria-rich foods.”
In fact, a kombucha- and tempeh-making business just opened near Mr. Katz’s home in Cannon County, Tenn., population 16,000. “It’s not just happening in New York, San Francisco and Portland,” he said.
The carbon footprint of the average American’s diet has shrunk by about 9 percent, largely because people are eating less beef, according to a new report.
Changes in the American diet—lower consumption of not only beef, but orange juice, pork, whole milk and chicken—meant that the average American’s diet-related greenhouse gas emissions dropped from 1,932 kilograms in 2005 to 1,762 in 2014.
The analysis “just shows that small changes in our diets have impacts,” said Sujatha Bergen, a food specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s a very concrete association between reduced red meat consumption and reduced emissions.”
The biggest contributor to the reduction was a decline in beef consumption of about 19 percent over the course of the decade, adding up to a cumulative reduction of 185 million tons of climate change pollution. Total emissions cuts from dietary changes were 271 million tons. During that time, overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions averaged more than 6 billion tons a year.
Despite the improvement, the dietary changes pale by comparison to overall American emissions from a wealthy lifestyle. The average American has a carbon footprint of about 16 tons and the average U.S. car accounts for roughly 5 tons of emissions per year. China is the world leader in total carbon pollution, but the average Chinese citizen is responsible for less than half the contribution of the average American.
Americans eat more beef per capita than any other country except Argentina and Uruguay, and beef still contributed more than a third of the United States’ diet-related climate emissions — about 34 percent in 2014.
But in recent years Kroger has ramped up its supply of organic foods in a bid to steal market share from Whole Foods and other niche grocers such as Sprouts Farmers Market and Fresh Market.
Kroger now devotes several aisles in its stores to organic and natural foods and offers a variety of organic meat and fresh produce. The chain has its own line of organic goods under the “Simple Truth” brand, and it’s prices are about 15% cheaper than Whole Foods’ prices, according to a study last year.
The expansion into organics has paid off.
Kroger’s sales of organic and natural food totalled $16 billion in the past year, compared to $15.8 billion at Whole Foods, according to Barclays.
A man who applies pesticides to Iowa fields for $14 hour might not seem a likely organic enthusiast. But when I met Jim Dreyer last fall, and he mentioned the backyard patch he and his wife had planted with vegetables in the spring, he told me he didn’t use any pesticides. When I asked him why, Dreyer surprised me: “I don’t want to eat that shit,” he said. When I went grocery shopping with his wife, Christina, she surprised me, too, by picking out a bag of organic grapes even though she was paying with Snap – food stamps – for exactly the same reason.
I thought about Jim and Christina last week, and my surprise at their organic habits, after Walmart announced it will be adding 100 new organic products to its shelves this month. For as long as I can remember, “organic” has been synonymous with affluence and conscious consumption. Partly, that’s because organic foods are typically 30% more expensive than conventional items. But part of it is our assumption about who exactly buys organic and why. Typically, it hasn’t been families like the Dreyers, who are raising three kids on Jim’s $14 an hour and can’t really afford it. So we tend to think that people who buy organic food are part of a select group: urban, well-meaning, affluent, educated “foodies”.
This is a pernicious myth. In reality, the poor actually consider organic food more important than the rich, according to top researchers – and organic isn’t a “select” phenomenon at all. Three-quarters of American shoppers buy organic food at least occasionally and more than a third do so monthly, according to industry analysis by the Hartman Group. When researchers asked why shoppers didn’t buy organic more often, two-thirds said it was because of the higher price.