Could rediscovering and accepting our regional differences lead to big payoffs in terms of increased resilience, and even conflict avoidance, later on?


It used to be that you could take a road trip across the United States and discover regional differences along the way. The shops and restaurants could be very different from place to place and reflected the tastes, traditions and economy of the time and place where you were. This is still true to a lesser extent, but for the most part, globalization and economies of scale have erased our regional differences, at least from the point of view of the country’s highway system. Now, if you don’t see the same chain gas stations, truck stops, fast food joints, motels, and convenience stores at every exit ramp, go a little farther until you approach a sprawl area urban/suburban. It shouldn’t take too long before they sprout up like mushrooms after the rain.

Smoothing out our regional differences was meant to be a feature, not a bug. Not only was mass production seen as more efficient than having multiple layoffs in the system, it made it easier to move families whose kids (and elders) wanted the same bland, easy-to-chew burger wherever they went. were stopping. Coast-to-coast just-in-time delivery meant that the same big-box stores could save warehousing and stocking costs, passing the savings on to customers…or shareholders. It worked until it no longer did, as natural disasters, labor issues and a pandemic ruined everything and exposed how fragile the status quo had become.

The Internet and national broadcast media have done for language what globalization has done for the economy. In 2017, HuffPo reported that DARE, the Dictionary of American English, was shrinking its catalog of unique, character-rich colloquialisms that documented our regional differences. Now, we can all say most of the same words, but probably mean different things when we say them. It hasn’t helped our communication any more than chain stores from coast to coast have supported local resilience.

And yet, differences remain.

This week, two articles were published within a day of each other highlighting the importance of these differences in terms of food security. The first, in modern farmer, talked about the early 1900s tomato breeding program behind Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Large food processors don’t particularly like regional differences in their industrial inputs. They prefer a high degree of standardization, and that is what Campbell’s breeding program aimed for. The winning tomato goes to John Thompson Dorrance, the Campbell employee behind the condensed soup innovation, who later became company president.

What was so good about his tomato, which went into commercial production in 1918? “The JTD tomato is a medium-sized red tomato that averages between eight and 12 ounces. It is uniform in shape, tasty and does not crack. Campbell’s sought to standardize its crop with tomatoes that were consistent in size and shape, as well as tasteless and blemish-free, as its production needs increased. The JTD contributed genes to the Rutgers variety, which was once grown by 72% of US commercial tomato growers before being abandoned for a thicker-skinned tomato with better shelf life. Mmm mmm, a tomato that looks and tastes like any other tomato to be rolled in the hopper and pureed into a mainstream soup. Good for business, but where’s the joy?

Photo by Bart Heird on Unsplash.

A Perfect Counterpoint came out a day later in the New York Times. It is easy, they say, to buy vegetable seeds of common garden varieties, available from a multitude of vendors. If one is willing to venture off the beaten track, however, a whole world of diversity is available from a new breed of seed companies with a different vision for the food economy and future resilience.

One such source, the Experimental Farm Network (EFN), is a nonprofit venture of two guys who met during the Occupy movement, turning vacant land into fertile, productive food plots. Not only do they offer unusual and captivating seeds to home gardeners, but their seed sales support their efforts to make the world a better, fairer, and safer place. EFN donates free seeds so that people who otherwise could not afford to do so can grow their own food. They have saved and grown seeds in places threatened by conflict and climate change. They help develop and distribute varieties adapted to the changing environment, such as perennial vegetables that do not require tillage. And they’ve even recreated culturally significant seeds back to their original people, whether it’s making corn and squash ancestral in Native American gardens, or putting heirloom Syrian tomato seeds back in the hands of refugees who miss them.

We are not all the same, and neither are our microclimates and soil types. Rediscovering regional differences in our food supply is the first step to recovering local resilience from the clutches of globalism and corporate monoculture. Embracing a diversity of local foods (and people) could be the first step to allowing different regions and states to reassert their different characters, making the country – and road trips through it – interesting again. . It might even avoid the kind of conflict no one should want.

Related: Decentralize the food system – for good

Sources:

The Legacy of Campbell Soup’s Tomato Breeding Program
Where adventurous gardeners buy their seeds
American companies have turned to manufacturing N95 respirators during COVID. Now they struggle
An American dialect dictionary is disappearing. Here are some of his best words.
Network of experimental farms