We learned today that Haagen-Daz is producing a new line of ice cream labeled “Five” — because it only has five ingredients (milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla bean). “Simplicity Becomes a Selling Point,” announced the Washington Post, as food companies brag about how few ingredients their products contain. The type on ingredient labels grows larger as the list of food recalls (ground beef, peanut butter, pistachios) grows longer. Snapple is spending millions to promote its tea, which contains green and black tea and “real” sugar (and water, presumably). Real sugar comes from cane instead of the somehow fake sugar that comes from corn.
Americans’ obsession with what goes in their guts is also measured by miles. Consumers have come to believe that eating “local” food is better and more environmentally friendly than eating food shipped some distance. Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register notes that the distance food travels is often a poor measure for environmental impact. After all, does it make sense for Phoenix or Las Vegas to import water so these places can grow their own food. Artisan cheese makers in Italy survive because of a world market for their product — as do some growers in Africa. What would an eat local movement do to these producers? Moreover, Brasher reminds us, easy answers are often mistaken. For instance, researchers at Cornell University have found that eating meat could be more efficient that turning to a full vegetarian diet.
The local food movement is marching ahead and foodies continue to measure miles a piece of fruit or head of lettuce travels, even though the ag economists who first brought up the notion of “food miles” say it was always a poor proxy for environmental impact.