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Smorgasbord for Uncritical Consumers


If you are what you eat, then it's no wonder so many city folks have identity crises. Most people don't have a clue how the food they eat is grown, where it comes from, what skills are involved in growing it or what chemicals it contains.

Rather, most urbanites view themselves as food consumers, putting their trust in agribusiness, just as they put their trust in the company that made their CD players. The average "industrial eater," poet and essayist Wendell Berry says in the June California, is "necessarily passive and uncritical--in short a victim."

Berry's essay is just an appetizer in a full feast of articles on the subject of this state's "clean food revolution," with enough information to at least get eaters started as critical food consumers.

"After more than 40 years of waging all-out chemical warfare on nature, using toxic chemicals to kill aphids, redden apples and destroy weeds, California farmers have finally decided that there has to be a better way," the magazine asserts. By the end of the decade, 10% of all California produce will be grown by farmers who have broken ranks with mainstream agribusiness, abandoning the so-called "cide sisters" (synthetic insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) in favor of more environmentally sound farming methods.

Much of the information contained in these largely bite-sized articles has been served up by other publications. Some of it, such as journalist David Steinman's self-proclaimed low-toxin diet, needs much more scrutiny than the magazine offers.

The most encouraging piece is called "Local Heroes," and tracks the stories of several successful organic farmers, including Paul Buxman, who abandoned chemicals altogether when his son developed leukemia (from pesticide contamination, his family believes).

Much less encouraging is the information turned up by Steinman in a very brief article about the Food and Drug Administration's failure to test much of the produce that arrives in California from Mexico--where pesticide regulations are less stringent. And any optimism the issue generates will be tempered by Leora Romney's insight into why biogeneticists who originally set out to produce pest-resistant plants have instead been persuaded to produce plants that can resist increasing doses of pesticides.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the whole package, however, comes from an apparently inadvertent juxtaposition of images. One color shot features a beautiful California orange, perfect except for a tiny, harmless blemish. It was caused by an insect that citrus farmers battle each year with 410,000 pounds of highly toxic chemicals. On the next page is a photograph of a proud farm worker and her young son, who was born without arms or legs--the result of his mother's exposure to pesticides, she believes.

The responsibility for the use of the "cide sisters," of course, comes full circle. Anyone who eats must understand, Berry writes, that "eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used."


* The subtitle says it all: "Our Magnificent Obsession with All-Star Stiffs." The July Exposure package on "Dead Celebrities," does some fine pop analysis of our culture's growing fixation with show-biz types such as Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean--while providing plenty of excellent photography and art.

But in an age when celebs obsession often takes violent turns, the "Death as a Career Move" humor feature probably crosses the line of responsibility. Is the idea of Paula Abdul snapping her own neck "while tossing her head back during a photo opportunity" funny? Is it? The Spring issue of The Book-Los Angeles, that odd little paperback-sized quarterly, has arrived, well after Earth Day, with the words "Who Cares?" on the cover and one of the best environmental packages of the media blitz inside. The itty-bitty landscape photographs alone are almost worth the $5 cover price.


* Questions arise about Field & Stream, Salt Water Fisherman, Outdoor Life, Skiing, Yachting and other Times Mirror Co. publications (parent company of the Los Angeles Times), now that the Times Mirror Magazines Conservation Council has entered into a "partnership agreement" with four federal land and resource-management agencies.

A Times Mirror press release says the pacts with the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Forest Service were forged "to solidify the mutual goals of Times Mirror Magazines and the federal agencies to inform the public about important land management issues, promote the wise use of natural resources, implement natural resource education programs and work together on partnership projects."

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