On homogeneity

When I was at Westwind Mills last weekend, the owner told me that the “thumb” area of Michigan is one of the leading producers of dry beans in the US…but you can’t buy them here. All the small producers dump their beans directly into overseas shipping containers and send them to Europe. If you ask to buy a hundred or even a thousand pounds of beans, they just roll their eyes. Ask for a ton, and they might let you buy some to repackage for local resale. It’s just too much of a pain to get a few hundred or thousand pounds of beans out of the industrial queue.

Where do the dry beans I buy in the store come from? About half of the organic beans at my local food co-op come from China. The other half say “produce of the USA,” and some bear a seal of a Michigan group that certifies foods to be Kosher. Does that mean they were actually grown in Michigan? Hard to stay.

So what does this have to do with homogeneity? Well, if every bean in the area goes into one container, when they come out, they’ve been mixed together.  But further, the beans planted are the same variety, and probably from the same or similar source seed.  A few years ago I was talking with someone who had worked for a seed company. Her job was to walk through the soybean field and cull out any seeds that varied from the standard set by the company. They actively weeded out any diversity.

Now imagine you’re a restaurant owner. You have a couple main choices of suppliers who can provide you with “one-stop shopping” for your ingredients: Gordon Foods, Sysco, etc. All their ingredients come from producers and middlemen who can provide huge quantities of  ingredients that are perfectly uniform. And there’s only so much you can do with ingredients that are exactly the same quality. Ever wonder why the bacon, eggs, and hash browns at every greasy spoon diner taste exactly the same? Because they all come out of the same can, so to speak.

I will throw homogeneity this bone: it does prevent us from getting stuck with anything that’s really, really bad. It just makes it harder to find anything that’s really, really good, too.

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1 Comment

  1. farm mom said,

    November 8, 2007 at 11:32 am

    I live here in the thumb, and it is true. Everywhere you look, as far as the eye can see…fields of corn, soybeans, wheat and yet none of it is accessable. I have yet to find a local source of food in my county, though I am literally surrounded by it. Of course, when you live with Industrial Ag and have to deal with the nasty chemicals they spray on a regular basis, you don’t really want to eat the stuff anyway!!


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