Culinate

Learn more about your food

Ten websites that will help you eat with greater awareness

By
August 10, 2009

For thousands of years, gathering, preparing, and eating enough food were pretty much the main reasons human beings got up in the morning.

Only with recent innovations have we been able to put food gathering and cooking behind other activities. It’s no surprise, then, that fewer and fewer of us live on farms and ranches. And just as rare are hunting and fishing.

Meanwhile, grocery shopping at Wal-Mart is common, even while cooking confounds many (which may be in part why many eat out).

Taking a closer look at food.

On the face of it, these aren’t bad things. But we as a society have paid a price for not keeping food at the centers of our lives.

When we don’t have a good understanding of where our food comes from, we may not advocate for the protection of valuable farmland or make an effort to elect officials whose legislation supports a healthy food economy. We may not attentively shepherd animals who are in our collective care. We may not feed ourselves or our families in ways that nourish our minds and bodies over the long term.

For years, many of us have eaten blithely, trusting in what was available at the supermarket and what was advertised to us. Lately, however — thanks to the efforts of Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Alice Waters, and other writers, filmmakers, and food advocates — we have begun to wake up to the food challenges we face.

Still, because of the direction we’ve been heading in for decades — away from the sources and souls of our food — the job of trying to eat with greater awareness is just that. A job. And it’s one that requires a lot of deliberate information-gathering.

If you’re undertaking that job of learning about your food, we salute you. And we want to help. To that end, here’s a list of 10 sites — plus a bonus one — that we recommend for learning more about the food we eat.

For more sites and other organizations whose work we support, check out our Resources page.

  1. The American Farmland Trust is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect farmland. Founded in 1980 by a group of farmers and conservationists, the AFT is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to know more about land policy and farming. Its Local Food Lingo is a good place to begin your education about food.
  2. For more than three years, The Ethicurean, a group blog tour de force led by the indefatigable Bonnie Powell, has been rounding up food news — not Food Network news, but the happenings that affect the food on our plates. Contributors from all over the country keep an eye on SOLE food — sustainable, organic, local, ethical. The Most Popular/Most Commented area on the home page will help get you into the discussion.
  3. Grist's food coverage, much of it by farmer and writer Tom Philpott, is unflinching and eye-opening. Whether he’s aiming at industrial meat producers or discussing beer, Philpott is enlightening and entertaining — and often spot-on.
  4. The market/restaurant/farm search feature at the Eat Well Guide is easy to use — not to mention fun — but it also is only one part of a many-pronged effort to raise food awareness. The Green Fork Blog is good daily reading; the Meatrix will educate you about the meat you eat; and a plethora of guides — from a hormone-free dairy map to a seasonal food guide — live up to their promise.
  5. Sam Fromartz, author of Organic Inc., keeps a blog called ChewsWise. Whether he’s sorting through the latest news on organic food or sharing his famous baguette recipe, we appreciate Fromartz’s view.
  6. Another author, nutrition expert Marion Nestle, keeps a blog called Food Politics. In her 2006 book, What to Eat, Nestle peeled back the layers of marketing at the (aptly named) supermarket to reveal what we should be eating: Fresh foods on the perimeters of the store instead of the processed food so prevalent within. Her blog gives an expert read on the food news of the minute, but also explores issues such as obesity and food safety.
  7. If you don’t know about the Slow Food organization, you’re in for a treat. Slow Food and Slow Food USA are good places to read more about this international group with chapters everywhere (including our hometown, Portland, Oregon) supporting local and nonindustrial foods. A blog, Civil Eats, which came into being after last year’s Slow Food Nation, also keeps abreast of many of the issues that Slow Food cares about, neatly summarized as “good, clean, and fair food.” (Clarification: Civil Eats and Slow Food are completely separate entities. Slow Food USA has its own blog, while Civil Eats is independently — and ably — edited by Paula Crossfield.)
  8. Barry Estabrook writes the Politics of the Plate column on Gourmet.com, a good source for reporting and analysis. His story about Florida’s enslaved tomato pickers was an example of the kind of journalism about food we’d like to see more of.
  9. Call us old-fashioned, but we love newspapers — many of which make it a point to cover the burgeoning “food movement.” With such writers as Mark Bittman, Kim Severson, and Julia Moskin in its stable, the New York Times’ dining section is our favorite, but our hometown paper — the Oregonian — publishes an exceptional food section as well. (Don’t judge it by its Web presence.) We also recommend the Washington Post’s food section, and that of the San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. Although it can at times be a little wonky, Parke Wilde’s blog U.S. Food Policy is a good stop for those interested in policy. (To a certain extent, we all should be.) A food economist at Tufts University, Wilde has help maintaining his blog from a couple of others; together, their posts — such as a recent one that maps 10 U.S. food-policy destinations using Google Maps — enlighten and clarify.

And finally, a bonus site: As anyone who’s heard of Michelle Obama’s White House garden knows, the first family is eating well, and bringing much-needed attention to food issues. For updates on the intersection of food and the Obamas, we don’t miss Eddie Gehman Kohan’s dynamic blog, Obama Foodorama.

Now tell us which sites you go to increase your food awareness.