I have just begun reading Jane Smith’s book “The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants.”
This isn’t a book review, since I am in the first chapter only and the book has been out a couple of years, but I will say so far it has been a good read.
Of course, the produce industry is rife with Burbank’s legacy: Burbank’s namesake russet potato, the plumcot, the elberta peach, the santa rosa plum, the flaming gold nectarine and elephant garlic.
Burbank’s time was the age of Thomas Edison and his wondrous light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Samuel Morse’s telegraph.
Burbank was a famous man on par with these inventors. The advancements he brought to vegetable and fruit production were widely lauded.
Breeders and scientists are not so acclaimed anymore. We take smartphones and the Internet for granted but exalt the heirloom culinary and horticultural achievements of ages past.
Back in the early 1800s, Luddites protested mechanization of textile looms and the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution.
Maybe the slow food movement, which subsumes the organic and locally grown movements, is the Luddite protest of this century.
I know Alice Waters has published “40 years of Chez Panisse,” which documents that milestone of her Berkeley, Calif., restaurant. The online menu shows prices I am not likely to pay for a meal.In New York, Sotheby’s Auction House is the venue for Art of Farming, a $500-per-ticket celebration of heirloom vegetables and the art of growing them.
Posh meals, I am sure. I worry about how such trendy fashion gets translated to your average Chuck-on-the-street level.
I think about the locally grown, E. coli-tainted Oregon strawberries that were blamed for killing a woman and causing at least 16 people to get sick and hospitalizing at least seven. They get off easy with testing and other food safety requirements because they are considered safer and closer to the consumer.
At least the grower had a hand-written list of buyers that resold the berries, in some cases first names only, to give the state authorities.
I also worry about high-end chefs like Michael Ruhlman, who in April blogged about leaving chicken stock on the counter for days on end.
In August, New York Times writer Harold McGee looked into this practice and found, can you believe it, that this was dangerous.
Ruhlman, on his blog, says he has changed his mind about the practice, but I would have expected the author of the cooking books “Ratio” and “The Elements of Cooking” to not dispense such advice in the first place.
It is not enough to chant “local, safe and sustainable” every other sentence. The “I’ve never gotten sick from it” argument doesn’t cut it. Saying you’re sure it’s OK is no replacement for periodic tests to signal problems before someone becomes sick.
As we embrace locally grown and slow food, we also need to embrace the science that can make it safe.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.