Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” a term that has inspired countless activists in our troubled times. Only one problem: Gandhi never said it.
In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, inspiring quotes from such leading lights as Henry David Thoreau and Nelson Mandela have also been proven to be frauds – or at least they’ve been simplified beyond recognition. Who are the culprits? Probably enthusiastic idealists who massaged complex ideas into gauzy slogans, but kept the heavyweight names for their gravitas.
On a totally different topic (you’ll see where I’m going with this in a moment), we learn that many serious locavores – foodies who believe we should eat only locally grown produce – may be in for a shock. The righteous cry to “buy local” is trickier than it seems because, it turns out, many of the foods we consider local, well, aren’t. They’re the result of a globalization process that has been underway since Columbus landed in the New World.
You probably didn’t know that soybeans and sugar originated in Asia. I didn’t. Tomatoes aren’t native to Italy. And bananas? They started in Africa. Turns out, there’s almost no such thing as local, since many of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy come from someplace else. It also turns out we’re much healthier for it.
It’s perfectly fine to pay more for fresh produce grown by local farmers. Nothing compares with the freshness and taste of a just-picked whatever. But getting the most food at the lowest cost – a big concern for most people on a tight budget – makes a lot of sense too.
What’s the point? Bumper-sticker slogans are fine, but they can’t simplify the complexities of life, where sacrifices must be made and shades of grey are often the most color we can hope for. Even a subject as basic as food is much more complicated when we’re trying to feed a population that’s growing by the minute.
The use of simple language to explain complexity can help us get closer to the truth, as long as we’re careful not to be simplistic.