I love Facebook. Okay, not so much the phony breast-cancer awareness stuff, but still--hear me out.
Recently, an unconscionably talented music journalist of my acquaintance posted a link on Facebook to this L.A. Times piece, in which L.A. Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold argues that "While nobody was paying attention, food quietly assumed the place in youth culture that used to be occupied by rock 'n' roll."
I'm not very rock 'n' roll these days (nor was I ever, truth be told), but Gold's description of "a barren parking lot in Rosemead, where 600 people shivered in the cold, glancing at their iPhones and awaiting the arrival of a food truck bearing Korean tacos and kimchi quesadillas" is somehow affecting. In fact, I could swear I recently read a similar-feeling description of music fans lined up for some underground show in Brooklyn in the late 60s. (It must have been in The New Yorker?--drat, I can't find the reference right now.)
Anyway, lively debate about the article ensued, and one commenter posted a link to this long feature from Seattle Weekly food writer Jonathan Kauffman, who argues that "the local-foods movement has also been wildly successful because it taps into the way the indie-rock generation forms its ever-shifting musical allegiances." (Full disclosure: I used to freelance for the Weekly's food section, though before Kaufmann arrived; I've never met him.) In other words, foodies collect knowledge of obscure potato breeds and wine varietals in the same way that indie rock fans collect knowledge of obscure bands. And in both movements, there's a tension between being in-the-know and bringing favorites to wider acclaim. I think Kauffman is spot-on; to his piece I would only add: Etsy.
This pair of articles really brought home to me the difference between food as a cultural beat and as a scientific one--in many ways, the latter is how I come at the subject. (The scientist in me also wants to argue here that our delight in farmers market displays of dozens of varieties of potatoes, or kale, or squash is also an expression of what E. O. Wilson calls biophilia: we love the diversity of the biosphere, its variations on a theme.)
So while Kaufmann perfectly captures the cultural meaning of the local foods movement, I'd argue that there's more to it, from a scientific point of view. Agricultural biodiversity in general, and heirloom varieties in particular, aren't just useful for helping foodies establish their hipster cred. In fact, they can help people eat--healthfully, independently, and more locally--regardless of where they are in the world.
And that's where Facebook comes in again, because a day or two later another friend (a sublimely talented musician, coincidentally) posted a link to this heritage seed company founded and run by a 17-year old in Nova Scotia. Yes. A seventeen-year-old.
The total self-evident awesomeness of this has me at a loss for what to say next, but I guess the point is that the best vegetable varieties to grow in Nova Scotia are different from the best ones to grow in Seattle and different from the best ones to grow in Boulder and so on. So keeping all these different varieties alive and growing is important, and not just because urban hipsters will use them to establish ever-finer-grained distinctions of indie-ness. Sometimes, food isn't just culture--it's also food.
Edited 1/13 to add the musician!