Montague, PEI -- Just before I crash one evening here on a picturesque red-earth farm where I'm picking potatoes, beets, beans and spinach, I find myself scanning Time Magazine's summer special.
There it is again, yet another spread of gorgeous photographs and sparkling articles about food.
The issue is a gift horse for policy wonks hoping to mainstream the local and healthy food message, so I don't want to look it in the mouth. But there are some things that get my back up, which takes a lot after a day crawling on my hands and knees burrowing for potatoes in wet mounds of soil.
I'm referring, first, to the enormity of the divide between food writers and farm writers. The twain seldom meet, though they're next door neighbours. And to my nagging sense of the separate universe inhabited by the new food writers and photographers.
Yes, they're certainly doing a great job of breaking food out of the category of anonymous commodity and placing it alongside issues of artistry, cultural identity and good living. But oftentimes they aren't thinking through their effect on the anything-but-dolce-vita world of food production.
The glamorous pics are especially problematic, because their message is to the subconscious. Everyone knows how fashion photographers and their set designers and airbrushers cause bodily harm by distorting the image of women, but few think about how the same people cause similar problems with their framing of food.
Every food picture in Time is stunning: perfectly choreographed, colour-coordinated, almost as glistening, sensuous, enveloping and natural as Scarlett Johansson's lips.
I think it's fair to say that here in PEI over a fifth of our time harvesting is spent on post-harvest handling, much of which is simply about meeting the appearance demands generated by food image-makers.
Likewise, most of the food we toss, perhaps one-fifth of the harvest, is wasted simply because it disappoints visual expectations of proper size, shape, style, colour and absolute perfection. It must have no holes, no blotches, no signs of wear and tear and, above all, no suggestion that it came from the ground, which is dirty.
There are deep cultural roots beneath the denial of what food is. After all, in polite company we don't talk about eating steer, pig, leg or chest, but instead dine on beef or pork, dark or white meat.
There's a famous story about Winston Churchill, who was corrected by his dinner host when he complimented her on her chicken breast. The next day he gave her a corsage that he said she might wear over her white meat.
One reason why supermarkets defeated Main Street butcher shops was that supermarkets presented meat as if it descended from styrofoam trays, not from butchered animals, with mothers, whose heads and legs were hanging from the ceiling.
The crucial cover-up in post-harvest handling is the fact that the plant's life has been taken. Once the spinach is separated from its roots and its Mother Earth connection, it will start to wilt, and many of its valuable nutrients will dissipate.
It has to be cleaned, wetted and cooled right away to slow the natural process that kicks in when plants enter the kingdom of the dead and their nutrients prepare to be returned to the earth. Eric, one of my harvest-mates and a software designer in the off-season, calls this "hydro-cooling," a nice way to say the spinach is put in a pail of cold water, to be cooled and cleaned.
Then we lay it over a screen, tap the screen so the water drops fall off, and start sorting out any leaves that are yellowed or have holes and any stems that might suggest a previous attachment and relationship.
Then we bag the perfect spinach in see-through plastic bags, and, good undertakers that we are, take them to the root cellar where they'll be preserved until showtime the next day.
The food has to look like the customer thinks it's supposed to look and that's how photographers and magazine editors foster food waste in a world where a billion people are underfed and desperately hungry.
One way to deal with this waste is to have lots of volunteers who are paid in small potatoes and holey spinach. Another way is to set up on-farm catering operations that specialize in casseroles, the ultimate post-harvest handling method, ideal for masquerading holes and off-sizes.
These are the kinds of value-added enterprises that conservation-minded farm policy will foster in the coming era of food shortages.
We might also renew the saying of grace at mealtime, mindful that we have interrupted life processes, need to think of ways to renew the soil that had part of its life force taken away and thank the rough-handed sons and daughters of toil who make it happen.
These little steps might not be glamorous, but they would show respect for the process, as well as appreciation for the food.