Did Seattle and Portland Get Their Foodie Inspiration from Eastern Washington?

At least that's what Jeffrey Sanders claims in a recent Op-Ed at the Seattle Times. 

The roots of the contemporary food movement in the Northwest run far deeper than Seattle's hastily tilled parking-strip gardens. The movement is more geographically dispersed and firmly established than most of us realize. Most surprising, despite its coastal image, its birthplace is not Seattle or Portland. This region's food movement pioneers originated in ... Eastern Washington.

He goes on to explain that the 1974 World's Fair in Spokane started a conversation that sparked the proliferation of P-Patch community gardens in Seattle, and the formation of Northwest Tilth, and Oregon Tilth, two pioneering organizations in organic agriculture and whole-earth ecology. Most significantly, Sanders points out, these conversations east of the mountains planted the seeds that eventually led to the Organic Agriculture degree program at Washington State University.

Sanders concludes:

...if we can look beyond the Interstate 5 corridor for a sense of bioregional identity, the contemporary food movement still has the potential to connect east and west, city and country, and hopefully in a way that is more equitable and, one can hope, a little less precious.

There is irony in the fact that the modern food movement tends to be culturally centered in trendy, urban neighborhoods, when it's actually farmers and universities in rural areas that are pioneering sustainable practices in agriculture. Given the urban-centrism of the conversation, it too easily reflects some of the well-worn prejudices against country folks that led to derogatory labels like "redneck." (Until I read Wendell Berry's commentary on this and other labels like it, I never made the connection that these terms originated as ways to socially alienate farmers, especially in the south. Someone has a red neck because they are out in the fields working all day.)

These prejudices play out in more sophisticated ways in today's debates, where crunchy urban centers are painted as the centers of virtue when it comes to sustinability, and rural farmers are painted with a broad brush as Round-Up loving, earth-raping, titans of agriculture. Neither caricature reflects the reality on the ground. I have yet to meet a farmer who doesn't care for the land and the food it produces and our big cities have at least as many vices as they do virtues when it comes to food consumption.

As someone who lives on the east side of the mountains, and writes about food and culture, I share Sanders' sentiments.  There is a need for a more dynamic east-west interchange along I-90 that is at least as vital as the Seattle-Portland alliance that runs north-south along I-5. As he points out, this connection has been a key to past innovations in the Pacific Northwest food landscape, and holds potential to do the same in the future.

h/t Bike to Work Barb