Thursday, April 15, 2010


Last week I turned 30. On the eve of my birthday I invited a few close friends to my house for dinner. True New Yorker that I am I resisted the urge to call a potluck and instead ordered Salvadoran takeout. That night marked the end of the week-long Passover holiday, a time when traditional Jews abstain from unleavened bread, grains and legumes, and I was craving some Latin American fare. I ordered some vegetarian pupusas and tamales, bunuelos and enchiladas, and could barely resist picking at the sweet smelling platanos fritos during the car ride home. When we sat down to eat one my friends commented on my “interesting” choice of fried food. I chuckled and let the comment pass but it kept creeping up, repeating on me like a bad burrito. I began to wonder, what has happened to American society? Who took all the fun out of eating?

Immediately I thought of Michael Pollan, the botanical journalist-cum-food guru who first informed us that we faced an “omnivore’s dilemma,” that the corporate food system was evil, that government subsidies have destroyed not only our agricultural system but our diets and as a result our health. But to blame Pollan would be misguided. In his articles as well as his books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and most recently, Food Rules, Pollan seeks to reframe our thinking and remedy our national eating disorder, one that might be described as an interesting marriage of two very different, but not unrelated trends – the growth in production and consumption of “edible foodlike substances” and the rise of “nutritionism,” or the reduction of food to a list of nutrients and bioactive compounds. He urges us to turn back in time, return to the garden, to the kitchen, to the good old days, when eating was functional but also communal and ceremonial, when we sipped red wine and ate dark chocolate because they were rich and festive and delicious and not because they contained phytochemicals that could prolong our increasingly stressful lives.

I honestly don’t believe Michael Pollan is to blame. But sometime in the past few decades, amidst the rise of celebrity chefs, the Food Network, Paula Deen, Alice Waters, farmers’ markets, the Slow Food Movement, CSAs, we all went a little crazy. Maybe it was the pesticides on our fruit, the BPA in our water bottles, E. coli in our spinach, or the salmonella in our peanut butter that made us snap. We developed food allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, and many of us, with the best of intentions, became what I will heretofore term locovores: individuals who adheres to a strict and rigid set of eating practices based on political, ethical or religious beliefs and take their diets a little too seriously. You know you're a locovore when food choices become all consuming and interfere with friendly interactions, when non-life threatening dietary concerns override social graces. Call it the anti-omnivore's dilemma.

To be fair, I consider myself a locovore par excellence. I was raised eating strictly kosher food and was a picky eater, obsessively eating one food for an extended period of time. There was the year of Sicilian pizza, the spring of mushroom barley soup, the summer of fluffernutter on pita bread. I have a lifelong distaste for white bread, I eschewed red meat in high school, kissed gluten goodbye two years ago and have most recently eliminated dairy. I am an active member of a CSA that supports a small, local, organic farm, generally purchase organic produce and wild fish and frequent farmers markets. I am working toward a master’s degree in nutrition at a school for natural medicine in the Northwest, foodie capital of America. And that is precisely why I recognize the magnitude of the challenges we face, how serious a crisis we are in and why we must avoid taking ourselves too seriously.

“This American Locovore” is a project intended to provide portraits of the foodie scene today through the biased eyes of a skeptical and earnest nutritionist-in-training. Admittedly, I am both a product and a critic of the foodie zeitgeist, so I will not escape my own mocking scrutiny. I dedicate this blog to my locovoracious compadres: picky eaters, choosy moms, gluten-intolerant, lactards, raw vegans, orthorexics and macrobiotics. I am bemused by your ways and thank you in advance for providing such nutrient-dense food for thought.


  1. Hi Bec, I'm excited for your blog! And I think I remember the fluffernutter summer...

  2. Becca, I love your writing. I am so happy to have read your first post and you are a linked blog now on Scarpetta ( I'm going to tweet you.

    As for food, I do wonder if it's possible to have a normal relationship with it and be a woman who is the child of two Ashkenazic parents.

    I can't even it a piece of pizza normally, a coworker pointed out recently. I didn't realize people noticed and remembered and therefore didn't make me get in on the pizza order, which I would have succumbed to out of peer pressure.

    I look forward to your journey and I hope I can learn something from it.

  3. Brilliantly written, thoughtful, and a key topic. It's very easy to go back and forth on these issues. Getting back to healthy eating is important. I just heard the statistic that in 10 years 45% of the American population will be obese—and that doesn't take into account all the other issues of eating pesticide-free, etc. There's something to be said for "Back to the Garden" —but then the seriousness of it all can also be oppressive. I look forward to your continuing to shine light on these subjects.

  4. and what is neologism? Reading about la vore loca promises to be very enjoyable!

  5. @Jen - I was such a diehard fluffernutter fan that I made a special request that my mom bring it up to camp on visiting day.

    @Scarpetta - I plan to tackle Ashkenazi issues shortly. Thanks for the comment and the link; I'll do the same when I set up my blog roll.

    @Mim, I completely agree with all the public health warnings. The stats are very alarming and I think it's time people take responsibility for their health. The problem then becomes, where does one find reliable health information? There is so much conflicting data out there: fat is good, fat is bad, cut carbs, eat whole grain carbs. And yet, the more concerned we are abt our weight and our health, the more we see a rise in obesity and preventable, diet-related chronic disease. While I mock some of the more militant approaches to eating, I genuinely hope to draw attention to some of these major issues in the health and wellness arena.

    @Poppy - Webster has the following to say. See #2
    1 : a new word, usage, or expression
    2 : a meaningless word coined by a psychotic

  6. I've got a word for you...
    Vegangelical: A vegan who thinks that any other lifestyle choice besides veganism is wrong; one who similarly pushes veganism on others, often in a proselytizing way. See also, vegangelist. ;)