This afternoon, I attended “The Food Eater’s Dilemma” — the first panel discussion of Lewis & Clark’s 2010 Environmental Affairs Symposium. Presenters included Camas Davis of Portland Meat Collective, PSU professor Betty Izumi, Blake Van Roekel of Slow Food Portland and Good Keuken, and OSALT’s Will Newman.

The first piece of news shared during the panel is a great resource for folks who are interested in learning more about where their local meat comes from. Ready? Here it is: the Portland Meat Collective is now offering butchering classes (including chickens, for folks who aren’t able to keep their birds as pets after their egg production tapers off). The classes are a tad on the spendy side, but as founder Camas Davis put it, maybe it makes sense to take a few classes and build skills, then save a lot of money in the long run by utilizing those skills to prepare meat bought in bulk.

Beyond this useful, concrete resource-sharing, there were several conversation highlights. Among them:

  • With the overwhelming array of food choices and conflicting information out there, it’s easy to feel confused when we think about what to eat…but there is hope in that confusion: hope that it will lead to questioning, and that questioning to a (re)connection with our food.
  • “Local food” doesn’t mean anything special if you’re just talking about geographical proximity; ultimately, it means different things to different folks (less energy-intensive, produced without exploiting people, utilizing fewer chemicals, able to be visited easily, etc.), but for most, local food is shorthand for all of these things, and reflects a sustainably transformed food system.
  • What makes food ethical? “Up-frontness”/honesty about production methods so that people can make informed choices in line with their beliefs. Being clear on specifics and opening up space for discussion allows people to make their own choices for themselves.
  • “Big organic” and local food movements are seen as potential (strange) bedfellows. In our city, where local food is so accessible, it’s worthwhile remembering that even corporate organic may be a better choice than no choice at all for people elsewhere with little buying power and fewer choices. At least it opens the door to healthier food choices, and a saner food system.
  • Final advice for ethical Portland foodies: whenever possible, get out there and meet your farmer; take the time to shop at a farmers market; develop a relationship with the people you get food from; and read about ag and food systems so that you know what questions to ask…and then ask them.

Oh, and (according to Will Newman), one way to increase demand for fresh food in the markets: make sure to sniff the cut end of your lettuce at the market to see if it smells sweet (which means it was picked before the dew burned off in the morning) or bitter (picked after the juice rose up in it).