The Locavore’s Lament
The foodie netroots go bananas over unsustainable breakfasts.

The most important meal of the day (Dreamstime)


James Lileks

It’s a fine summer day, kind and blue. What shall I feel guilty about today? I know! Breakfast.

I had raisin bran. Wonderful, nutritious, unsustainable raisin bran. It was an old box, so most of the plump, unsustainable raisins had moved to the bottom. I also had sliced bananas, to indicate my complicity in global despoliation; juice from oranges whose existence should make me grey with shame; and milk saturated with the moral turpitude of immoral farm practices. And yet I ate it all, washed down with coffee that should have had UNFAIR TRADE stamped on the package, with a picture of Juan Valdez bent under a foreman’s whip.


At least the sausage was high-minded: I slaughtered the hog in the backyard and dressed the carcass, my arms bloody to the elbows; I ground the meat, noting with grim pleasure how the salt of my sweat would spice it. I packed the results into tidy patties, then put it in a box that said JIMMY DEAN and hid it in the grocery-store freezer, where I picked it up later. Really! If anyone asks, that’s my story.

It is necessary to have a qualified defense of your breakfast, because there are people who are annoyed by it. Worried. Angered. YOU HAVE BANANAS. YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE BANANAS.

From a site called Nutritional Anarchy:

Have you ever thought about how wildly unrealistic and unsustainable our current diets are?

Only when I’m at a fabulous new restaurant that’s charging $47 for kale-dusted medallions of artisanal suet, but I have the feeling that’s not what the author means.

Items that don’t grow within the same season are commonly consumed together. Things that don’t grow on the same continent are combined into all sorts of meals. We eat blueberries in December and drink pumpkin spice lattes in the summer. We eat tropical fruit with Midwestern grains. Without the transportation system, there would be absolutely no rhyme or reason to our “normal” diets.

If this were 1956, the sentiments above would precede a breathless description of the wonders of the modern age — a time when housewives can just pop open a can and schump! out comes a cylinder of solid frozen substance that transforms into juice. Wholesome, delicious juice! No more waiting for “orange season” to grind them individually into a precious ration; now your entire family can consume quarts of orange juice until their urine is almost 100 percent Vitamin C. No more rickets in the Rocket Age!

But this is 2014, and the sneer quotes around “normal” tell you that eating “blueberries in December” is precisely what’s wrong with this society. The article, “The Unsustainable Absurdity of the Average American Diet,” was passed around the Internet by all the usual Concerned Sources, and while it provides absolutely no sensible reason not to eat blueberries in December, it’s an instructive guide to what some people are worried about.

Namely, blueberries in December. But also:

Imagine if the grocery store supply lines shut down. If you had to eat what you could acquire without the national food transport network, how likely would it be that you could replicate that breakfast? It seems so simple, but it’s not going to happen.

Because we don’t grow oranges in Minnesota, any more than Florida grows wheat. In related news: People in desert climes use paper grown in distant forests. So? I can well imagine what would happen “if the grocery store supply lines shut down,” because now and then I think about an Iranian EMP taking out the national grid, and I pick up some canned beans to put in the storeroom. I think about getting a generator. Then I remember, John Kerry’s on that, and a strange calm comes over me, like a man who heard them building the gallows all night and finally sees it complete in the light of dawn. I put the beans back.

But I digress.

Think for just a moment about how ridiculous such a combination would have seemed to our ancestors.

You can just hear your great-great-grandfather scoff, can’t you? Why, there’ll be men on the moon before there’s bananas on my breakfast table. We eat a mush of crushed pig-knuckle gristle flavored with gravel, because there ain’t no fancy stores with doors that open before you get there and a nice lady handing out cheese on tapered sticks. But here we see the wisdom of the ancestors, and I’d like you to hold that thought.

If you live where wheat is growing, I’m going to guess that you do not live where bananas and oranges are growing. You’ve just invalidated the typical American breakfast in that sentence.

She’s right! Speaking the sentence aloud makes the breakfast vanish before your eyes.

Here’s an example of a breakfast you could acquire at the right time of year without a visit to the store. It took less than 5 minutes to make — it was truly as fast as that hypothetical bowl of cereal with the sliced banana. We picked the berries ourselves a short walk from our home on Friday. The duck eggs came from a nearby farm. It was filling, healthy, and delicious. You could easily add some local meat to the breakfast, or a bowl of porridge made from whatever grain grows nearby (like corn, rice, oats, or quinoa, depending on your location). Nearly every agricultural zone has a grain that grows well if you wish to acquire or farm them.

If you can walk to the berry patch, go to a duck farm, and cook it all up in five minutes, well, aren’t you in great shape. But I’m not going to feel bad for buying a box of cereal instead of farming it. FARMING IT. Wheat, waving in the backyard! Wheat, bending to the humble scythe! Wheat, threshed and separated! Wheat! Noble honest home-grown wheat! I admit it would come in handy if you’d been eating hypothetical breakfasts, but when you have actual loaves of bread from the store, you’re less inclined to start the day by firing up the peat-fueled oven and yoking the oxen to grind the grains.